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LI KUNG-LiN's Clussic of Filial Piety 

LI KUNG-LiN's Clussic of Filial Piety 

Richard M. Barnhart 

with essays by Robert E. Harrist, Jr., 
and Hui-liang J. Chu 


The publication is made possible with the help of the Tang Fund of New York. 

Copyright © 1993 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 
Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

John P. O'Neill, Editor in Chief 
Emily Walter, Editor 

Malcolm Grear Designers, Inc., Designers 
Rachel M. Ruben, Production 

Color photography by Malcolm Varon 

Type set in Palatino by The Sarabande Press, New York 

Printed on Warren's LOE dull, 150 gsm 

Color separations by Professional Graphics, Rockford, Illinois 
Printing by Mercantile Printing Company, Worcester, Massachusetts 
Bound by Acme Bookbinding Company, Charlestown, Massachusetts 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Barnhart, Richard M., 1934- 

Li Kung-lin's Classic of filial piety / Richard M. Barnhart ; with 
essays by Robert E. Harrist, Jr., and Hui-liang J. Chu. 
p. cm. 

Contains a reproduction of Li Kung-lin's handscroll Classic of filial piety. 
ISBN 0-87099-679-7 

1. Li, Kung-lin, ca. 1041-1106. Classic of filial piety. 2. Li, Kung-lin, ca. 1041-1106— 
Criticism and interpretation. 3. Scrolls, Chinese— Sung- Yiian dynasties, 960-1368. 
4. Scrolls, Chinese— New York (N.Y.) 5. Metropolitan Museum of Art 
(New York, N.Y.) I. Li, Kung-lin, ca. 1041-1106. II. Harrist, Jr., Robert E. 
III. Chu, Hui-liang. IV. Title. ND1457.C56L5325 1993 

759.95i-dc20 93-17578 


Jacket illustration 

Li Kung-lin (ca. 1041-1106), detail from chapter 12 of the Classic of Filial Piety (pi. 9) 

Li Kung-lin (ca. 1041-1106), detail from chapter 10 of the Classic of Filial Piety (pi. 7) 



Philippe de Montebello 

Richard M. Barnhart 

Robert E. Harrist, Jr. 

Hui-Uang J. Chu 

Richard M. Barnhart 

Richard M. Barnhart 

Sondra Castile and Takemitsu Oba 


In memory of Frances Young Tang 


The Classic of Filial Piety, by the eleventh- 
century figure painter Li Kung-lin, is one of the preeminent monuments of 
Chinese art history. This publication, with contributions by three leading Li 
Kung-lin scholars. Professors Richard M. Barnhart of Yale University and Robert 
E. Harrist, Jr., of Oberlin College, and Dr. Hui-liang J. Chu of the National 
Palace Museum, Taipei, analyzes the painting and calligraphy of Li Kung-lin 
and elucidates the significance of the handscroll in the context of Chinese cul- 
ture. It also commemorates the promised gift of this important work to the 
Metropolitan Museum as part of a group of paintings donated and promised as 
gifts to the Museum from Oscar L. Tang, Jack C. Tang, and Wen Pong and 
Constance Tang Pong. The Tang family gifts significantly augment the Museum's 
growing collection of Chinese painting and calligraphy. In addition to Li Kung- 
lin's handscroll, the gifts include three rare fourteenth-century Yiian paintings 
by Wang Meng, Hsia Yung, and Teng Yii; a monumental hanging scroll by the 
fifteenth-century Ming court painter Chung Li; two gemlike albums by the 
seventeenth-century Individualist masters Shih-t'ao (Tao-chi) and Kung Hsien; a 
lavish oversize handscroll by the late-seventeenth-century Yangchow profes- 
sional painter Yiian Chiang; and a magnificent four-panel painting of bamboo by 
the eighteenth-century Yangchow "eccentric" painter Ching Hsieh. 

The gifts of the Tang family paintings reflect the recent surge of interest in Asian 
art in this country and the continued commitment to Chinese painting and 
calligraphy at the Metropolitan signaled by the opening of the Astor Garden 
Court and the Douglas Dillon Galleries in June 1981. This publication is made 
possible with the help of the Tang Pund of New York. I would also like to express 
my thanks to the following members of the Museum staff: Mr. Takemitsu Oba, 
C. V. Starr Conservator, and Sondra Castile, Assistant Conservator, worked for 
many years to bring the scroll to its present state of rejuvenation, and for this 
volume they have written a most interesting and valuable account of its conser- 
vation and mounting; Dr. Maxwell K. Hearn, Curator in the Department of 
Asian Art, devoted meticulous attention to the preparation of the publication; 
and Emily Walter, Senior Editor, lent her wonderful skills to editing the 



The Metropolitan Museum of Art 



Richard M. Barnhart 

If today we are less interested than we 
once were in systems of critical and historical evaluation of the kind that would 
identify Li Kung-lin (ca. 1041-1106) as "the greatest painter of the Sung dy- 
nasty/' we might nonetheless still find it appropriate to examine Li as one of the 
central figures among those whose art defined what Sung painting became in the 
eyes of later historians. In this regard, Li stands at the precise historical point at 
which the systemic bases of the earlier imperial tradition were just beginning to 
be undermined by proponents of a new gentry style and philosophy of painting 
that would eventually dominate the later periods of Chinese history. China 
itself, during this same period, was being transformed from a society ruled by a 
hereditary aristocracy into one effectively governed by a new class of scholar- 
gentry-bureaucrat. Li's own life is, in fact, an embodiment of this change, since 
he was born into one of the great aristocratic families of Chiang-nan, the Li clan 
of Nanking, which founded and ruled the small Southern T'ang kingdom of 
Chin-ling in the tenth century. His ancestral family lost its status with the 
establishment of the Sung state, however, and Li spent much of his life as an 
official serving in the lowest levels of the government bureaucracy. 

Before Li's time, the art of painting was a public and imperial art, sponsored 
by the imperial courts, the powerful hereditary families, and the great temples, 
and was required to convey the images, ideals, values, and propaganda of those 
institutions. It was by and large a colorful, handsome, and dramatic art, glorify- 
ing the political, religious, and economic rulers of China and narrowly serving 
their purposes. This pattern did not by any means end with the Sung dynasty, 

and in fact remained the central tradition of art until the end of the Chinese 1. U Kunghn, Imperial 

Horses at Pasture, arter Wei Yen, 

empire. In the hands of Li and a few others, however, painting began to take on detail of figure 2 



a new role and transform itself into a formal mode of expression, like poetry, 
that could serve to convey the mind of the individual artist as well as the em- 
blems of those who controlled his life. 

Art, in other words, acquired the capacity to criticize, reject, exhort, and sub- 
vert, as well as to flatter and glorify the powerful. It was only when it was seen 
and understood to have this capability that painting began systematically to 
attract the most intelligent and highly educated of men to its ranks. Such later 
masters as Chao Meng-fu, Shen Chou, Wen Cheng-ming, Tung Chi-ch'ang, Pa- 
ta Shan-jen, and Shih-t'ao might never have become painters had not Li devel- 
oped the potential of painting to convey the nuances of the individual life 
through its forms. 

A few years after Li's death, the great government catalogue of the imperial 
collection of paintings recorded 107 of his works. ^ Many others are mentioned in 
later historical sources, but only three of them exist today. This reduction by 
time and fate of an oeuvre originally numbering perhaps several hundred down 
to three is, of course, a crippling loss. Even allowing for the fact that copies of 
varying degrees of reliability permit us to reconstruct something of what is lost, 
it might be argued that we can no longer truly understand the art of Li Kung-lin, 
so little has survived. Some might argue the opposite, that even one fragmentary 
original work allows us true art-historical understanding; but, in any case, the 
three extant works by Li are such extraordinary and beautiful works that they 
not only richly embody his own art but also reflect upon and interact with the art 
of his time in such a way as to convey the nature of Sung painting and indeed the 
very processes by which it was formed. 

All three works are handscrolls, a matter of some interest, since Li certainly 
worked in other formats. Possibly because handscrolls are slightly more easily 
preserved than other formats, more of them have survived. (They are certain- 
ly more easily carried or stored than large hanging scrolls; in Sung times, how- 
ever, handscrolls and hanging scrolls were about the same size, generally speak- 
ing, and albums, fans, and album leaves were as easily carried or hidden as 
handscrolls.) But it appears more likely that the majority of Li's works were 
handscrolls. In his time, they were used primarily for narrative and didactic 
works serving a small, focused audience, since there was almost no way to 
display a handscroll publicly in traditional China. 

Why this may be of interest is the possibility that Li himself did a great deal to 
contribute to the growing popularity of the handscroll format. All three of his 
extant paintings were done originally as handscrolls and could have had no 
other intended function than to be seen, read, and understood by one particular 
patron. One of them was made at the order of the emperor himself— or the 
imperial court— and therefore fits the earlier imperial practice. Another, how- 
ever, was made for a scholar named Yang, and the third may have been painted 
directly for one of Li's friends, a scholar and poet named Chang Hsiin. Before Li, 



it is unlikely that the artist in China painted primarily for specific and often 
private patrons in this way. Since it would seem that his friends Mi Fu, Wang 
Shen, Su Shih, and others also painted more for individual friends, colleagues, 
and patrons, it is clear that what is emerging in China at this historical moment 
is the birth of a new relationship between the artist and his patrons.^ 

Li's three handscrolls represent something considerably more than simply three 
works. Their combined length is over thirty-six feet. One of them contains five 
separate paintings; another, twelve; and the third includes over a thousand 
horses and a hundred men, so that we have in the surviving oeuvre a total of 
hundreds of men, animals, buildings, and pieces of furniture, as well as count- 
less other miscellaneous elements. If we wish to see how Li painted bamboo or 
landscape or architecture, we can do so. How did he paint in color on silk, as 
opposed to working in ink on paper? How did he "copy" ancient works? What 
are the principles of his compositional structure? Which classical masters did he 
emulate and study, and how did he use their characteristics? If we must deeply 
regret the loss of so much of his art, at least we can take some satisfaction from 
the fact that so rich and diverse an array of his art as we have remains in the 
three handscrolls now extant. Their range is interesting for other reasons. One 
work is a copy of a T'ang-dynasty composition; one is a series of portraits (of 
both horses and men); and the last is an imaginative and rich visualization of 
social, philosophical, and moral ideals. Three primary elements of the Northern 
Sung are thus embedded in Li's art. In one he studies and copies the classical 
masters. In another he sketches from life. And in the third he isolates intangible 
moral properties and seeks a way to give them form. Studied separately, they 
shed much light on the nature of Sung art. As a group, they separate and put into 
focus the strands of his art as we have it today, and they define the unique 
contribution Li made to both the substance of Sung art itself and the historical 
remaking of earlier art that was also the contribution of only a few such men. 

According to the artist's inscription and signature. Imperial Horses at Pasture 
(figs. 1, 2) was copied by Li at the order of the imperial court from an original 
painting by the T'ang horse painter Wei Yen. 3 Although we cannot be certain 
when Li painted it, it is quite clear from the array of seals and the very physical 
materials of the scroll itself that it was mounted arid registered during the reign 
of Emperor Hui-tsung (r. 1100-1126). Li had already retired from official service 
by this time, but his reputation was at an early zenith, Hui-tsung having ele- 
vated Li and the landscape painter Li Ch'eng (d. 967) to the highest pantheon of 
the art of painting, judging from their biographies in the imperial catalogue, 
Hsuan-ho hua-p'uA It is interesting that both men were of aristocratic descent, Li 
Ch'eng from the T'ang imperial family and Li Kung-lin from the royal Li clan of 

The imperial catalogue records twenty-seven paintings by Wei Yen, several of 
which could have been Li's model. 5 None of Wei's works exists today, but it is 


Figure 2. Li Kung-lin, Imperial Horses at Pasture, after Wei Yen. 
Handscroll, ink and color on silk, i8xi685/8 in. (45.7x428.2 cm). 
Palace Museum, Beijing 




possible to see something very close to his art through the medium of the 
anonymous wall paintings from the T'ang imperial tombs, especially those in 
the tomb of Prince Chang-huai (Li Hsien; 654-684). ^ The galloping polo players, 
mounted hunters, and other massed horses and horsemen constitute a major 
theme of the tomb and surely reflect the passion for horses and equestrian 
activities that typified the T'ang imperial family, as it did nearly every later 
imperial court. All of the earliest classical masters of horse painting— Ts'ao Pa, 
Han Kan, and Wei Yen— were T'ang artists, and Imperial Horses at Pasture is only 
one of the many copies and studies of their work that Li made. 7 Our only knowl- 
edge of the otherwise lost early works is in fact preserved in such copies, so that 
we begin to sense the degree to which the Sung period reconstructed its own 

Nonetheless, it is also clear that Li's passion for horses preceded his study of 
earlier paintings of the subject, and that his long practice of collecting, copying, 
and studying older paintings of horses was but an element in his lifelong fas- 
cination with the animal. His love for horses seemed to some of his contempo- 
raries an unnatural and potentially harmful excess: Buddhist friends warned 
that he was in danger of becoming a horse in another incarnation, and in his late 
years he is said to have given up the subject of horses to paint only Buddhist and 
Taoist images.^ If the latter is true, however, it is more likely to have happened 
simply because Li became quite ill and partially incapacitated in his final years, 
and could no longer visit the imperial stud as he once had done habitually. 
Confined to his bed much of the time, he could, according to one account, do 
little more than draw his fingers over the cover as if tracing old lines and shapes 
from mind pictures. 9 

According to Li's nephew, the master once painted a picture of the early Bud- 
dhist scholar Chih-tun judging horses. Chih-tun, when criticized for his passion 
for horses by Buddhist colleagues, had replied, "I love to gaze upon their lively 
spirit and fire."'^° We may suppose that in choosing to paint Chih-tun, Li was 
answering his own critics in the same way. We might even imagine that when, 
late in life, he lay incapacitated in his bed, it was, among other images, those of 
horses that he traced on his bedcover. 

In any case, in the catalogue of Li's paintings compiled by T. Y. Leo for Agnes 
Meyer in 1923, thirty-six paintings of horses are recorded. These include horses 
pasturing in the imperial stud, tribute horses from the various foreign king- 
doms, horses being trained in both civil and military exercises, horses at foal, 
rolling in the dirt, and galloping in springtime, the judging of fine horses by 
skilled connoisseurs, famous horses from earlier dynasties, and copies of classi- 
cal early paintings of horses. There is no doubt that Li admired, studied, 
sketched, and depicted horses throughout his lifetime with a purposefulness 
which surpassed that of most men, and which led to his rank among the greatest 
masters of the subject who have ever lived in China. 



Imperial Horses at Pasture is a realistic depiction of more than twelve hundred 
horses and nearly one hundred fifty men in a broad sweep of fields through 
which the imperial horses are driven by officials, keepers, and herdsmen. In the 
sheer number of details and the broad, heroic scale of its vision, the painting is 
comparable to another monument of imperial art from the period, Chang Tse- 
tuan's (iith-i2th century) Spring Festival on the River (see fig. 9).^^ Just as this 
work portraying bustling city life in the Sung capital depicts scenes known well 
to Li, so also does the scroll of galloping horses at the imperial stud. It has been 
pointed out that Li's composition resembles that evoked by the T'ang poet Tu 
Fu's description in his "Sandy Stud Park," a poem that may have been related to 
Wei Yen's original paintings on the subject which now became the model for the 
Sung painter. 12 Tu Fu's description of the imperial stud was a warning against 
the rebellious schemes of the usurper An Lu-shan, and it is likely that in Li's time 
as well a pictorial composition of pasturing horses recalled both imperial power 
and predatory dangers. Tu Fu's poem has been translated by William Hung: 

Have you not seen in the P'ing-i Prefecture white sands as white as water, 
Surrounded by a wall forty miles in length? 

In ancient times imperial steeds were reared by the waters of Wo-wa, 

Now the blooded breeds are offered from here. 

Graze on the fresh, green grass that flourishes even in winter. 

Such well-fed, strong horses are not found even in the West Regions; 

The colts foaled here each year excel those of the frontiers. 

His Majesty has a brave officer in charge of the stud. 

Within which the Imperial stables are grouped like thick clouds. 

A snow-white courser alone is chosen for His Majesty; 

Twice in the year, spring and autumn, he goes to Court. 

Of the hundreds of thousands in the stables or pastures 

Of the Empire, which one can compare with him? 

As the fleetest of foot he is already peerless. 

Not to speak of his heroic loyalty and resourcefulness. 

I see horses dash among sandy mounds, 

I see them jumping and leaping across the streams. 

Entering the woods, they play and wrestle with wild deer; 

Floating on the ponds, they disturb the turtles and water-lizards. Beware! 

There appears a giant fish as big as a man. 

It has golden scales and a vermilion tail. 

Has monstrosity anything in common with righteousness? 

It is frightening, though it is not really a dragon. 

While we may continue to think of the Sung dynasty as a long age of peace, the 
fact is that rebellion, revolt, and insurrection were never far from the seat of 
power in imperial China. From the beginning of the Sung, founded through 
warfare and military power, until its end at the hands of invincible Mongol 



forces, the dynasty was beset both from without and from within by constant 
threats to its existence. 

Li's friendship with the chief officer of the imperial stud allowed him easy and 
frequent access to the kind of scene portrayed in his painting, and it is likely that 
he observed sweeping panoramas like this one more than once. He enjoyed 
watching the imperial guard in its military exercises and training, and perhaps 
it was during these activities that he met the brilliant young officer Wang Shen, 
whose later landscapes of exile are a counterpart to Li's images of disaffected 
officialdom. 14 Li's position in the bureaucracy was, however, an ambiguous one, 
since his own family had been among the victims of the Sung conquest and his 
father had been disgraced by the Sung government. He clearly avoided bureau- 
cratic service as long as he could, and he retired at the age of barely fifty, after 
having avoided even the slightest bureaucratic accomplishment for twenty years. 

There can be little doubt that Li intended his composition as an allegory. It 
begins with massed horses herded into dense groups by attendants and out- 
riders. Stick-bearing herdsmen bring up the rear, a well-controlled pack of ani- 
mals running before them. This tightly reined community extends through 
exactly the first half of the composition. Thereafter, among the hundreds of 
horses that wander freely throughout the broad pastures and fields there are only 
five men; three of them sleep under a tree, and two others wander idly and alone 
among the grazing horses. As control slackens freedom grows, until we see the 
animals spread freely across the entire range of vision (the end of the scroll 
appears to have been cut, so we may no longer see the original end of the 
composition, but the general direction is clear). Of course, if Tu Fu's forty miles 
of walls correspond to an equivalent Sung boundary, then there were no truly 
wild, free animals, only some that were relatively unrestrained within those 
final, uncrossable boundaries. 

Imperial Horses at Pasture is a painting about control, for all the beauty of its 
depiction. Men with sticks and power create order out of chaos, and horses that 
would otherwise graze by distant streams are herded into conformity and obe- 
dience. Throughout the obviously troubled years, during which he held one 
minor office after another and saw his friends imprisoned, banished, retire 
early, or die prematurely, Li came to know well the results of such control, and 
he depicted this disturbing aspect of the imperial system more than once, as we 
shall see. 

Here, the system of central control beloved by Chinese rulers from their earliest 
appearance in history— and much in favor even today— is cast into an almost 
musically enchanting form, orchestrated by the artist with sensitivity to the 
slightest interplay of opening and closing forms and movement. The tight herd 
of horses we see at the beginning is contained both by men and by the hills that 
rise beyond, holding it inside as if framed; gradually, as control slackens, we see 
a wider and broader setting, as one hill becomes another and yet another, while. 



by contrast, the stunting limits of control that we saw at the beginning are made 
more dramatic. 

Within that slowly changing structure, the artist attends lovingly to his images. 
The knowledge of horses — how they look, move, rest, and interact — that lies 
behind such representation is unmistakable, and in seeing it, we recall the artist 
haunting the imperial stables, giving his paintings to stable boys and handlers 
in return for access, and sketching what he saw until, in consternation at his 
devotion, his Buddhist friends warned him that he was going to turn into a 
horse. Li loved horses. He loved them for their spirit, courage, and strength, and 
for their individuality, just as if they were people. As he depicts them here he 
reveals an unerring certainty as to their every variety, every mannerism, pose, 
and movement, the fruit of those long hours of study and reflection, when 
perhaps he even wandered among the grazing animals, just as the two isolated 
men toward the end of his scroll do, just like one of them. 

In other words, no matter what the original painting by Wei Yen may have 
looked like, what Li reveals to us is his own reflective and highly trained skill 
and the daily, habitual study of life that was unmistakably his practice. With 
masterly assuredness, he presents his pageant of horses and men in a perfectly 
calibrated landscape setting in which the challenging problem of perspective is 
made to seem incidental: from near to far, a gradual diminution of scale prevails. 
A hundred horses in a hundred poses fill a square foot, each of them lively and 
vivid. Only when we have arrived at the end, however, and see them in their 
variety and freedom, can we look back at the beginning and realize that there, 
docile and tightly controlled, they all have the same head-down, submissive, 
sheeplike sameness. At the end they playfully fight with and nuzzle each other, 
idly drink from a stream, or wander back into the ravines. In a state of Taoist 
freedom— protected, of course, by those final, invisible boundaries somewhere 
far off —their handlers can sleep easily beneath the trees, and the horses may live 
at ease, without either tight control or chaos. 

I believe that in such paintings Li quite consciously conveys to us this particular 
aspect of his view of life. Even his earliest biographers, the compilers of the 
imperial catalogue Hsuan-ho hua-p'u, for example, acknowledge that his paint- 
ings "usually convey some subtle admonition, in the same way that Yen Chun- 
p'ing reformed people by telling their fortunes. "^5 Surely those who controlled 
men's lives also would have read such a message. 

Li Kung-lin was a skilled portrait painter, and the purpose of his portraits was to 
reveal and convey those qualities of place, class, character, and personality that 
distinguish human lives one from another. in other words, he drew careful 
distinctions, describing things as they are— within the conventions and limita- 
tions of his time and place. His admirers, in any case, regarded him as the 
greatest realist painter of his day, esteeming precisely that attention to detail 
which distinguished one personality or social class from another. ^7 If today all 



Sung painting seems relatively realistic in comparison with everything that fol- 
lowed in the later history of Chinese art, it is valuable to know that in an age of 
realists, Li stood out. This is particularly important in looking at the subtleties 
of his great masterpiece of pai-miao, or plain-ink drawing, the Five Tribute Horses 
(figs. 3a-e), believed to exist still in a private Japanese collection (but reportedly 
destroyed during the Second World War).^^ The five horses and five grooms 
depicted here are the only overt portraits by Li that have survived— though we 
should not regard ourselves as greatly deprived, since there are at least these 
portraits of five horses and five men. Ten portraits by the greatest portrait mas- 
ter of the eleventh century are in fact a feast of portraits. 

Li did not invent the technique of painting in black ink, but he elevated to an art 
the earlier practice of sketching and making preliminary drafts in ink alone. ^9 
The technique consists of painting directly on a paper or silk surface without 
preliminary underdrawing (except for the kind of swift, pale line visible in some 
pai-miao paintings of the Sung and Yiian periods, indicating that a loose, sketchy 
underdrawing was sometimes done to provide guidelines for the ineradicable 
black-ink lines that followed) and without color, except for occasional vermilion 
accents and, of course, ink wash, both as tone and as a modeling device. 

While few portraits remain from the eleventh century, one with which we can 
compare Li Kung-lin's is owned by the Kozanji Temple in Kyoto, a portrait of an 
unknown Ch'an, or Zen, master (fig. 4). Painted in brilliant colors and rich 
decorative patterns of silk and brocade, the unidentified teacher is depicted in 
strict formal style (Japanese chinzo, Chinese ting-hsiang), seated in a high-backed 
chair with his feet drawn up under him. The face is done with subtle attention to 
nuances of curving cheek, nostril, and eyelid, conveying the personality of a 
fleshy, broad-chested man whose calm, expressionless face does not altogether 
conceal an impression of great authority and intelligence. Among such men Li 
was a familiar figure, for he was a devoted Buddhist and numbered among his 
friends some of the most learned Ch'an teachers of the time. 

Li's first groom (fig. 3a) is another broad-chested, calm-eyed man of apparent 
wisdom and experience. Drawn relatively quickly with pale ink and a few darker 
accents in the pupils of the eyes, the face is remarkably vivid and realistic. In 
place of the rich color and design of the Ch'an portrait, Li's drapery is drawn 
swiftly and surely in plain ink, without shading or texture. The ink lines them- 
selves have a rhythmic, harmonious quality, radiating across the paper surface 
like slow waves. All that matters representationally about the body itself is its 
strong physical presence and attitude of reverent subservience. This reduction of 
all the painterly elements of portraiture to ink lines and sparse ink wash, with- 
out traditionally decorative qualities, is a transformation something like the one 
that characterizes the change from a colorful, richly decorative, and realistic 
late-medieval style to the quiet, shadowed monumentality of Masaccio. It is a 



fundamental art-historical change that harbors deeply significant associations, 
since such change does not occur superficially, as a merely aesthetic exploration. 

To critics of the time, Li's pai-miao painting was an assertion of the philosophy 
and the aesthetic of the scholar over those of the professional painter; this could 
be interpreted as a class statement as well, in which the scholar-bureaucrat estab- 
lishes superiority over mere professionalism. Professionalism, of course, is an- 
other of the evils that some critics would have seen Li's pai-miao aesthetic 
triumphing over, just as the scholar's lack of interest in technical or professional 
expertise puts itself in the service of a higher, more intelligent order, unencum- 
bered by mere technical skill or specific knowledge. In fact, Li's pai-miao is yet 
another rejection of the imposed conditions of servitude that Li reacted against 
throughout his lifetime. If those at court expected colors and decoration on silk, 
then he would paint on paper with ink alone. There was no reduction in the skill 
required for this style; if anything, even greater skill was required, since nothing 
could be covered up. In exposing every risk taken, every failure encountered, 
every bold stroke achieved, it was akin to the art of calligraphy. 

But Li's pai-miao was not calligraphy; it was painting reduced to its linear 
essence— ink lines without color, and with only the merest suggestion of to- 
nality. With this new medium Li painted his most personal and intimate works, 
such works as Five Tribute Horses, which seem to address a handful of friends and 
colleagues rather than any larger audience, friends like the poet and calligrapher 
Huang T'ing-chien (1045-1105), who inscribed a brief identification and descrip- 
tion next to each horse and added a colophon praising both the painter and 
another common friend's writing style. Even this mutually congratulatory flavor 
may have been more than Li expected. The painting itself seems to be closer to 
private observation— a reflection on the nature of man and the horse — than to 
anything possible through verbal description. Huang T'ing-chien's inscriptions 
thus became curiously trivial and unnecessary. Here, for example, is the inscrip- 
tion beside the first horse: "To the right is the horse. Phoenix Head Piebald, 
eight years old, five feet four inches high, given as tribute by the Yii-chen king- 
dom, and received by the Left Unicorn stud on the sixteenth day of the twelfth 
month of the first year of Yiian-yu [1086]." 

In the past, judging from such copies and descriptions of earlier works as we 
have today, paintings of tribute horses (which were popular and very common) 
were done as though they were colorful public processions. Foreign tribute to 
the Chinese throne, after all, was as much a public act as any other necessary 
ceremony of state authority; if no one saw it, it had no effect. The audience, of 
course, may have been composed only of court officials, which is what Li was, 
but the audience for both the occasion itself and depictions of it needed to be 
impressed by the drama of the ritual and entertained by the sight of exotic 
foreign objects and people. Such processions certainly were something to mar- 


Figure 33-6. Li Kung-lin, Five Tribute Horses, datable to 1090. 
HandscroU, ink on paper. Present location unknown; formerly in 
Kikuchi and Yamamoto Teijiro collections, Japan 




Figure 33-6. Li Kung-lin, 
Five Tribute Horses 

vel at, though the audience could still congratulate themselves on being Chi- 
nese, residents of the central kingdom of the universe. 

Li gives his audience no color, no drama, no pageant, nothing at all to inspire 
self-congratulation. His horses are prisoners; his grooms, servants. Despite this 
reality, each animal and each man is presented as an individual, as keenly and 
sympathetically observed and depicted as if he were an intimate friend or close 
relative of the artist. This was a small and subtle heresy, a slap in the face of 
arrogance and power. 

Li looks so closely at his objects that he sees what others may not: how each 
groom resembles the horse he has cared for, how the posture or stance of 
each echoes the other, how physical attributes are similar in horse and man, and 
how these two different worlds of man and beast are held together by a short 
piece of rope and a long bond of mutual trust. 

As portraits alone they are the very measure of achievement in a great age of 
portrait painting. Perhaps only George Stubbs and Giuseppe Castiglione would 
have appreciated Li's attention to the individuality of each horse. Feng-t'ou- 
ts'ung. Phoenix Head Piebald (fig. 3a), is a horse of great strength with a large, 
intelligent head. His visible eye is like the eyes of his attendant, open wide, 
calm, and unafraid. Brocade Shoulder Piebald (fig. 3b) has the youthful, eager 
look of a Shetland pony and a long, curly mane like a mat, or like the straw hat 
worn by his groom; and he too has a faithful, smiling face. Good Head Red (fig. 
3c) is more introverted, his shadowed eye like the eyes of his groom, sunk deep 
into his skull; both horse and man stand awkwardly. White Shining in the Night 



(fig. 3d) is as calm and placid as the moon his name evokes. And the last horse. 
Flowers Fill the Stream (fig. 3e), a beautifully dappled stallion, is proud and 
spirited, evidently the least broken and domesticated of the five, despite the 
whip carried by his handsome attendant. 

What is most remarkable about these paintings technically is the brilliance of the 
brush drawing. Never before had anything like this been done, the bare, un- 
polished brushstroke left before us, mistakes and all, yet brilliantly creating 
forms in space. The subtle nuances of pressure and slight turnings of the lines 
create relatively powerful configurations of tangible forms and receding con- 
tours. Bridles wrap themselves around heads. Hands grip ropes. A robe spreads 
around striding boots. Terse ink lines define three-dimensional forms as surely 
as a sculptor models clay. Taught by centuries of connoisseurs and critics of 
Chinese painting— and conditioned by our own relatively recent appreciation of 
the qualities of sketches and drawings— we can recognize the graphic rawness 
and immediacy of Li's brush. But how did the people of his own time see so 
clearly what it has taken us so long to appreciate? How is it possible for so 
demanding an art to have risen so quickly to such high public esteem? 

Ultimately, we can only guess. But in all probability the attention given to Li's art 
by so many so quickly owes primarily to the fact that he was befriended and 
admired by the small coterie of scholars, poets, and artists who were undoubt- 
edly the most gifted and distinguished men of their time. Su Shih, Huang T'ing- 
chien, Wang Shen, Mi Fu, Ch'in Kuan, Tung Yu, Chang Lei, Ch'ao Pu-chih, and 
those scholars and officials, Buddhist priests, and Taoist monks who associated 



Figure 4. Unidentified 11th- or 12th- 
century artist, Portrait of an Unknown 
Ch'an Master (traditionally identified 
as Pu-kung). Hanging scroll, ink and 
color on silk, 46^2X23^/8 in. (118.1 x 
59.4 cm). Kozanji, Kyoto 

with them were a concentration of talent, intelligence, and creative energy un- 
equaled in Chinese history— and indeed rarely seen before or since. ^3 Others of 
the group were also painters of great achievement, but for the coterie as a whole 
it was Li who represented the art of painting at its most learned and far-ranging. 
Bearing the public approval of this coterie, Li's art went forth in the world with 
credentials like those no other painter had ever before carried. And in return, 
the plain beauty and disturbing, provocative substance of his art gave rewards 
that surpassed all expectation. 

Imperial Horses at Pasture (fig. 2) is at some level a copy of an earlier work. Li was a 
passionate student of the past, and he went to extraordinary lengths to be able to 
see and study great paintings by the classical masters. ^4 To an interesting and 
suggestive degree, the masters he copied were those who have since been re- 
membered as the patriarchs of the art: Ku K'ai-chih, Lu T'an-wei, Wu Tao-tzu, 
Han Kan, Li Ssu-hsiin, and Wang Wei. ^5 Imperial Horses at Pasture suggests the 
likelihood that Li's so-called copies were in fact relatively free re-creations, 
loosely based upon the model yet remade into a personal interpretation that 
expresses the artist's own thoughts and attitudes. 



The historical model for Li's Five Tribute Horses is the earlier practice of such 
pictures rather than any specific example. Such compositions— in which a suc- 
cession of tribute horses and grooms or attendants were arrayed horizontally, 
with colorful, decorative detail and a dramatic, entertaining flavor— had been 
painted by the great masters of horse painting, such as Han Kan and Tung-tan- 
wang. Li's Five Tribute Horses is a type of commentary on that tradition, taking 
the form of a series of portraits of actual horses and grooms presented as tribute 
to the Sung throne in the years 1086 to 1088, but presenting them in a new style 
that challenged the assumptions of the old style and the purposes of the earlier 
paintings. Li makes us reconsider the entire context of tribute bearing, and 
further suggests that we look empathetically at all men and at their relations 
with the world. External configurations, though an inexact reflection 
of internal realities, must be correct and true if we are to see beyond them— 
as Li makes it possible for us to do in both Imperial Horses at Pasture and Five 
Tribute Horses. 

So far as we know today, no complete earlier version of the subject existed when 
Li Kung-lin painted his Hsiao-ching hsiang, or "visualizations of the Classic of 
Filial Piety," the third and last of his extant works. This ancient text had been 
illustrated many centuries earlier, but by the eleventh century probably nothing 
more than fragmentary and debased bits of that precedent were still known, at 
best. Li therefore had to invent his so-called visualizations. Because it was his 
own invention, the Classic of Filial Piety belongs to the small group of pictorial 
narratives that represents Li's most profound and original creations. This group 
includes, in addition to the Classic of Filial Piety, the Homecoming Ode {Kuei-ch'u- 
lai-hsi) of Ta'o Ch'ien, the Nine Songs of Ch'ii Yiian, the Hua-yen Sutra, the 
Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion, and a type of representation of arhats or lohans, 
the ascetic disciples of Sakyamuni Buddha, that profoundly influenced later 
Buddhist imagery. 27 Each of these pictorial inventions became a classical model 
that in turn influenced many generations of later artists. 

The Classic of Filial Piety— or at least one version of the subject— was requested of 
Li Kung-lin by a certain Mr. Yang in 1085. Li's own account of the matter is of 

Lord Yang of the Phoenix Pavilion said that the Classic of Filial Piety is the lock 
and key to the Six Arts and the root and foundation of all human conduct. He 
said to me. Lung-mien Shan-jen Li Kung-lin, "If you could depict these matters 
in order to show them to people, it would be of benefit." Therefore, in the sixth 
month of the eighth year of Yuan-feng, I chose one or two things from each 
chapter and depicted them.^s 

The present scroll has the look of a first draft, a series of sketches, and must be 
directly related to the initial painting of the subject in 1085. Three sections of the 
original eighteen are now lost, but their general character can be seen in early 



copies of the entire composition, which is the basis for all known later versions 
of the theme. Beside each painting is Li Kung-lin's own writing of the relevant 

Although the entire work is discussed in detail later in this volume (pp. 73-155), 
here we would like to call attention to a few features that are of particular 
importance to an understanding of Li Kung-lin's art in the broadest sense. Like 
Five Tribute Horses, the Classic of Filial Piety is painted in the plain-ink pai-miao 
technique. A few traces of vermilion can still be found here and there, indicating 
that the work was very much like the Five Tribute Horses in style, except that the 
latter was done on paper, the former on silk. Because of the relative informality 
of the images in the Classic of Filial Piety, we might suspect that Mr. Yang and Li 
had a special relationship. Perhaps Mr. Yang sent Li the bolt of silk on which he 
subsequently painted the succession of eighteen images spontaneously and in- 
formally, as if discussing the content and meaning of the Classic with Mr. Yang 
through his pictures. At any rate, the clear implication of Li's note is that the 
pictures were done for Mr. Yang, so that a kind of dialogue is involved. Unfortu- 
nately, we do not know Mr. Yang's response. 

The Classic of Filial Piety itself was a long-hallowed mainstay of the Confucian 
political and social tradition, although it was not designated as one of the official 
classics until the Sung dynasty. By Li's time, every schoolboy was probably 
required to memorize the eighteen sections or chapters. 

It would not exaggerate the significance of the Classic of Filial Piety to observe that 
its contents— the governing of relationships among men— are the keystone of 
Chinese society, the "root and foundation of all human conduct," according to 
Mr. Yang. With these carefully regulated rules of conduct in place, society would 
be secure. We still see in China today the unchanging belief in the absolute 
necessity for the maintenance of such order. Harshly and inhumanely imposed, 
however, the patriarchal and hieratic structure of behavior described in the 
Classic of Filial Piety can become inhibiting, fear-inducing, and finally destructive. 

It is one of the beauties of Li's depictions of the subject of carefully ordered 
human relationships that we can read both the virtues and the potential faults of 
the kind of prescribed relationships set forth in the text. Li's pictures convey 
commentary and criticism as they systematically present a pictorial account of 
both ideal and actual human society. In this ideal world, children sustain and 
support their parents; friends love friends; officials govern with honesty and 
courage; rulers rule with strength, fairness, and wisdom: human society is 
harmonious, ordered, and intelligent, governed by a carefully maintained order 
of relationships as clear and perfect as the musical notes of an ancient set of 
stone chimes. 

But in fact, as Li shows us, the world often falls far short of this ideal. The 
wretched and the poor are regarded as dangerous. Honest men take their lives in 
their own hands and risk everything to speak honestly. Those who transgress the 



rules of society suffer harshly, while complacent emperors grow fat and remote. 
Alongside such behavior there continues to exist the other, so often unattained 
and perfect, world that we have the capacity to realize but mostly do not. 

What Li presents again and again is the individual human being, each within his 
or her systematically governed web of relationships, both sustained by and 
trapped in them. The various ways in which he does this constitute the sub- 
stance of his artistic originality and reveal the nature of his didactic intentions. 
Li Kung-lin set out, as he tells us, to do something that "would be of benefit"; we 
can examine his purposes by examining the structure of his art. To emphasize 
the individual human life within the idealized realm of a universal filial piety 
that controls the operations of human society, Li typically isolates one person 
within a pictorial structure composed of people in a communal or mass state. 
What is being measured in such works is the individual human action, respon- 
sibility, and obligation. Emperor, prince, minister, father, son, each finds him- 
self alone in the fulfillment of necessary filial duties. 

When these actions take place within the home, as in the several scenes of 
children serving their parents, we sense the loving intimacy and harmonious 
ideal that can exist. When they take place in public arenas, however, like the 
court or the streets, we often glimpse the artist's commentary on power. His 
prince, for example, in the illustration to chapter 3 of the text (see pi. 1), appears 
as a concerned and humane man riding in his carriage through the city streets. 
A company of armed guards protects him, flanking the carriage on both sides, 
preceding it, and presumably following it as well. They look threateningly and 
with suspicion at the common people along the way, one of whom appears to be 
shaking his fist in anger despite the watchful and glaring eyes of the head guard. 
Li isolates the poor and the crippled in the lower corner, separating them dra- 
matically from the richly appointed and impressively bannered armed company 
of imperial aristocrats who fill the upper part of the composition, forming a 
powerful and overwhelming force in the pictorial structure. Elsewhere, Li 
brings the same structure of oppression, threat, and control to bear on an iso- 
lated honest official who dares to submit a criticism of the imperial court, and 
again on the helpless orphans, widows, and widowers who are ceremoniously 
and ritually greeted by their ruler in the illustration to chapter 8. In Li's visual- 
ization of this important symbolic act of filial piety, we see the abandoned and 
harmless surrounded by the visible threat of violence and isolated from the 
powerful forces that control their lives. 

Li Kung-lin's contemporaries believed that his paintings could benefit human 
society, and that they often subtly incorporated admonitions or didactic mes- 
sages in unexpected ways within their forms. In fact, his paintings reveal that 
for Li his art was a tool or a weapon, a moral vehicle that allowed him to set out 
his views of the men, institutions, ideals, and conflicts of his time. When he 
depicted the emperor of China, he commented upon that figure; a portrait of a 



high minister was a statement about actual ministers and about the lives of men, 
like his father, who served in official positions. Men are seen to be in conflict 
and forced into dangerous situations. Common people are shown to be a con- 
stant threat to those in power, except when their lives are neutralized through 
the operation of mutual respect and filiality. Occasionally, as in chapter 12, 
where the Essential Way is discussed, Li allows us to see a fluid, harmonious, 
and unstructured society without conflict or compulsion. This is the ideal that 
always beckons, but it is shown to exist only when there is no coercion or 
physical necessity. As he revealed so beautifully in his Imperial Horses at Pasture, 
when people are tightly controlled they behave like sheep, head down and sub- 
missive. They behave like people only when they are left alone, like the free and 
unencumbered horses at the end of that scroll, released from compulsion. 

Before Li, painting did not have the capacity of poetry or prose to convey signifi- 
cant human meaning, to criticize or praise, to blame or admonish, or to reveal 
the artist's inner thoughts and emotions. In a way not seen earlier, Li let his art 
grow directly from the activities of his life. He painted his friends when they 
were drunk or happy, created spontaneous images of water buffalo and 
herdboys or rocks and bamboo to make visual poems corresponding to those his 
distinguished friends wrote with words, drew from ancient masterpieces mate- 
rial with which to reflect on the present, and fashioned his studies into political, 
social, and philosophical observations. It was only when painting acquired this 
capacity that it joined poetry and calligraphy as a necessary art in China. 

1. Hsuan-ho hua-p'u (original preface 1120), translated into modern Chinese and annotated by Yii 
Chien-hua (Beijing, 1964), pp. 132-33. 

2. For the late Northern Sung gentry and their views of painting, see Osvald Siren, Chinese Painting: 
Leading Masters and Principles, 7 vols. (New York, 1956-58), vol. 2, pp. 1-52; and Susan Bush, The 
Chinese Literati on Painting: Su Shih (lo^y-iioi) to Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (1^^^-16)6), Harvard-Yenching 
Institute Studies 27 (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), pp. 29-82. The patrons of Li's extant paintings 
will be discussed below. 

3. Published in Chung-kuo li-tai hui-hua: Ku-kung po-wu-yilan ts'ang-hua chi, vol. 2 (Beijing, 1981), 
pp. 24-43, ^rid notes pp. 6-7. 

4. HsUan-ho hua-p'u, pp. 130-33, 182-83. 

5. Ibid., p. 225. 

6. Jan Fontein and Wu Tung, Han and Tang Murals (Boston, 1976), pp. 90-103, 

7. Agnes E. Meyer, Chinese Painting as Reflected in the Thought and Art of Li Lung-mien, ioyo-1106 
(New York, 1923), pp. 247, 252-53, 256, 262. 

8. Ibid., pp. 56-57. 

9. Ibid., p. 54. 

10. Ibid., p. 247. 

11. Reproduced in Chung-kuo li-tai hui-hua, vol. 2, pp. 60-83, ^^'^ notes pp. 8-12. 

12. Chang An-chih, Li Kimg-lin (Beijing, 1979), p. 17. 

13. Translated, with modifications, from William Hung, Tu Fu: China's Greatest Poet (Cambridge, 
Mass., 1952), p. 84. 



14. Richard M. Barnhart, "Landscape Painting Around 1085," in the Festschrift volume in honor of 
Frederick Mote, The Power of Culture, ed. Willard Peterson (Hong Kong: Chinese University 
Press), forthcoming. 

15. Hsuan-ho hua-p'u, p. 131. 

16. Meyer, Chinese Painting, pp. 287-88. 

17. HsUan-ho hua-p'u, p. 130. 

18. See Meyer, Chinese Painting, pp. 288, 293, 316, 325-26, 327, for records of Li's portraits. The 
HkeHhood that the scroll was painted for the v^^riter Chang Hsun was suggested to me by 
Deborah DelGais MuUer, who is preparing an article on the painting. This assumption is 
strongly suggested by the earliest seal on the scroll, which simply reads "Hsun." Huang T'ing- 
chien's colophon would then have been written also for Chang Hsun, not Chang Lei, as has been 

19. Richard M. Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u: Illustrations of the 'Classic of Filial Piety'" 
(Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1967), pp. 159-64. 

20. Sodai no kaiga: Tokubetsuten/ Song Paintings from Japanese Collection[s] (Nara, 1989), cat. 59, p. 94, is a 
recent publication of this famous old painting. Traditionally ascribed to the Buddhist painter 
Chang Ssu-kung, and identified as a portrait of the T'ang priest Pu-k'ung (705-774) because of a 
late inscription at the top of the painting, the portrait is in fact a work of the eleventh or twelfth 
century by an unidentified Buddhist priest of the Sung period. 

21. A painting of tribute horses attributed to the T'ang master Han Kan, and its earlier and later 
associations, is discussed in Thomas Lawton, Chinese Figure Painting (Washington, D.C., 1973), 
cat. 47, pp. 186-90. 

22. Siren, Chinese Painting, vol. 2, p. 43. 

23. Bush, Chinese Literati on Painting, pp. 29-43. 

24. Meyer, Chinese Painting, p. 102. 

25. Richard M. Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Use of Past Styles," in Christian F. Murck, ed.. Artists and 
Traditions (Princeton, 1976), pp. 51-71. 

26. Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u," pp. 66-70, discusses earlier versions of the subject, 
none of which seems still to have existed in the eleventh century. 

27. Meyer, Chinese Painting, pp. 271-75, 341-42. See also Lawton, Chinese Figure Painting, cat. 4, 
pp. 38-41. 

28. Author's translation from Chou Mi, Yun-yen kuo-yen lu {Mei-shu ts'ung-shu ed.), reprinted in I-shu 
ts'ung-pien (Taipei, 1962), p. 37. 


A Biography of Li Kung-lin 

Robert E. Harrist, Jr. 

I^r his illustration of chapter 17 of the 
Classic of Filial Piety, Li Kung-lin combined two complementary scenes (fig. 5; see 
also pi. 14). In the upper left, a scholar-official at the imperial court addresses an 
imposing, seated figure, who must be the emperor himself. In the lower right, 
separated from the scene above by a diagonal band of cloud, the same scholar- 
official appears again, lost in thought as he sits at home in a garden pavilion. 
Although the obscure posts Li Kung-lin held in the Northern Sung (960-1127) 
government never demanded that he speak his mind in the imperial presence, as 
does the figure in the painting, the illustration is a fitting visual introduction to 
his biography. Like the scholar-official in his painting, Li struggled to reconcile 
the often conflicting ideals of active involvement in government service and 
contemplative retreat from its potentially corrupting demands — a conflict 
summed up in the Classic of Filial Piety by the words chin, "to advance," and t'ui, 
"to retire." In real life, however, Li Kung-lin never achieved the assured balance 
between these two ideals that he achieved pictorially in the illustration. While his 
public career in government carried him fitfully from one minor post to another, 
Li achieved fame for his private career as a painter and as an antiquarian. 

The Scholar in Retreat 

In the eyes of Northern Sung society, dominated by the precepts of Confucian- 
ism, the first significant event in Li Kung-lin's life surely was earning the chin- ^^^^^^^^^^^J^l 
shih degree in 1070. Although historians currently are engaged in lively debate Piety (plate 14) 



over the relationship between degree-holding and elite status, there can be no 
doubt that for men of talent and ambition living during the Northern Sung, this 
degree was the surest passport to becoming a scholar-official in the civil service 
bureaucracy, the most desirable career in imperial China. ^ The term chin-shih 
means literally "presented scholar," a reference to the fact that men who 
achieved this degree were presented formally to the emperor. In English, the 
term is often translated as "doctor of letters," which nicely underscores the fact 
that although men inducted into the civil service through the chin-shih examina- 
tions performed all manner of administrative duties, from drafting state docu- 
ments to supervising water-conservancy projects, the examinations themselves 
tested a candidate's literary skills and his knowledge of the classical texts that 
formed the Confucian canon. 

The son and grandson of scholar-officials from Shu-ch'eng in modern Anhwei 
Province, Li Kung-lin was fortunate in being born into a family that nurtured 
precisely that scholarly environment which could best prepare a chin-shih aspi- 
rant for the intellectual ordeal he would face. In fact, by the end of the Northern 
Sung dynasty, Li's family had produced nearly half the fourteen chin-shih degree 
holders known to have come from the prefecture of Lu-chou, the administrative 
unit that included Shu-ch'eng. ^ The year Li Kung-lin earned his degree, he 
shared honors with his younger brother Kung-yin, their cousin Li Chieh, and a 
man named Li Ch'ung-yiian, sometimes identified as another cousin but most 
likely a fellow native of Shu-ch'eng, with whom Li Kung-lin shared a common 
surname. All four men successfully completed the exhausting sequence of exam- 
inations that began at the prefectural level in Hefei, the seat of Lu-chou prefec- 
ture, and culminated with the Palace Examination, supervised by Emperor 
Shen-tsung (r. 1067-85) himself in K'ai-feng (then known as Pien-ching), capital 
of the Northern Sung. 

John Fairbank has compared earning the chin-shih degree in imperial China with 
being awarded tenure at a university and simultaneously being elected to Con- 
gress in the United States today. 3 For men whose years of arduous scholarly 
preparation had at last brought them one of the highest marks of distinction their 
society could confer, the completion of the chin-shih examinations in K'ai-feng 
was an occasion for great rejoicing. In the fall of 1087, while he was grading 
examinations and perhaps remembering the celebrations that attended the con- 
ferral of his own chin-shih degree, Li Kung-lin wrote a poem describing the joy 
felt by families of the successful candidates. The closing lines read: "Joyous 
events, the celebrations will go on for days / They must rely on wine to carry it all 
off!"4 The formal celebrations in K'ai-feng climaxed in a banquet hosted by the 
emperor at which the successful candidates were presented with flowers, cere- 
monial clothing, and other imperial gifts. The men also organized their own, 
less decorous, revel called the Feast of Hearing Happy News. In a poem describ- 
ing this event, a euphoric graduate wrote: 



We sang like crazy, and shouted loudly at each other; 
We danced, and fell on the door-steps. 
There was not much thinking at the time; 
All we did was to enjoy the moment. ^ 

Graduates often capped their festivities with visits to K'ai-feng's thriving 
brothel districts — a final fling before returning home in triumph and preparing 
to launch their careers in earnest. 

Although newly minted chin-shih recipients sometimes had a brief wait before 
they were appointed to office, the normal course was to move directly from 
degree candidate to scholar-official. But Li Kung-lin, at just this point in his life, 
made a highly unorthodox decision: he turned his back on an official career, 
returned to his home district, and settled in a scenic area called the Lung-mien 
Mountains. Choosing "to retire" (t'ui) rather than "to advance" (chin), Li did not 
seek office for nearly ten years. 

Why did Li Kung-lin decide to avoid official life for so long? Richard Barnhart 
has suggested that although Li seems to have held no strong political views 
himself, he may have hoped to avoid the factional struggles within the bureau- 
cracy that attended the implementation of the famous reform policies of Wang 
An-shih (1021-1086) in the early 1070s. ^ During these years, with the support of 
the energetic Emperor Shen-tsung, Wang launched new administrative policies 
touching on everything from currency to horse breeding. These policies sparked 
intense political disputes between the reformers, who supported Wang, and the 
conservatives, led by Ssu-ma Kuang (1019-1086), who opposed both the specific 
measures Wang advocated and the utilitarian philosophy by which they were 
justified. While Li Kung-lin may well have been reluctant to become embroiled 
in these feuds, he may have had other, more private reasons for avoiding public 
life. According to his nephew Chang Ch'eng, Li Kung-lin's father had come to 
grief when his outspokenness, in "six essays that exceeded the norm," led to his 
dismissal from office. 7 His father's misadventures may have lessened the attrac- 
tions of office-holding so much that Li Kung-lin decided to delay his own debut 
as a bureaucrat for as long as possible. Although their reasons for dropping out 
of public life are not clear, Li Chieh and Li Ch'ung-yiian also spent time with Li 
Kung-lin in the Lung-mien Mountains during the 1070s. Contemporaries 
dubbed the trio the Three Li of Lung-mien. 

When he decided to retreat to the mountains and began calling himself the 
Hermit of Lung-mien,^ Li Kung-lin joined the venerable line of hermits and 
recluses whose biographies enliven Chinese history and literature. Like count- 
less hermits of earlier centuries, Li spent his retirement from public life in 
magnificent natural surroundings. His retreat lay in the Lung-mien Mountains, 
southwest of the city of Shu-ch'eng, deep in the Ta-pieh mountain range. The 
name Lung-mien, or "Sleeping Dragon," was inspired by the mountains' to- 



Figure 6. After Li Kung-lin, 
"Necklace Cliff" and "Chamber 
of Perching Clouds," from the 
Lung-mien Mountain Villa. Hand- 
scroll, ink on silk, 11V4X 201^/2 in, 
(28.7X512 cm). Palace Museum, 


pography: "wriggling, rising, falling," as they are described in a local gazetteer, 
the mountains were thought to resemble the form of a recumbent dragon. 

Several years after Li had left the mountains to take up a government position in 
K'ai-feng, he painted a pictorial tour of his property titled the Lung-mien Moun- 
tain Villa, or, as it is usually abbreviated. Mountain Villa. 9 The poet, calligrapher, 
and statesman Su Shih (1037-1101) composed a well-known colophon for the 
painting, and his younger brother, Su Ch'e (1039-1112), wrote a preface and 
twenty poems — one for each of the major sites Li depicted— in imitation of the 
twenty "Wang-ch'uan" quatrains by the T'ang recluse-poet Wang Wei (701- 
761).^° Both the draft and the final versions of Mountain Villa were lost long ago, 
but in extant copies we are offered glimpses of Li Kung-lin's life in the 

Unlike the writings of his friends Su Shih, Su Ch'e, and Huang T'ing-chien 
(1045-1105), which have been preserved in wen-chi, or literary collections (and 
which can be read as intellectual and spiritual autobiographies of the writers), 
Li Kung-lin's literary works, aside from a few poems and scattered notes on 



painting, have not survived. What we can know of how Li interpreted his own 
life must come from his paintings. None of his works was more autobiographical 
than Mountain Villa. While the Classic of Filial Piety comments on the obligations 
of official life and depicts the social and political hierarchy within which men of 
Li's class lived. Mountain Villa illustrates a world of private, intensely personal 

The painting presents an inviting landscape of luxuriant trees, precipitous cliffs, 
strange rock formations, caves, streams, and waterfalls (fig. 6). But Mountain 
Villa is not merely a topographical survey of Li's property; it is also a record of his 
presence in the landscape and, in a sense, of his ownership of the land. In a 
sequence of self-portraits, Li depicts himself with two companions, probably Li 
Chieh and Li Ch'ung-yiian, as they linger by waterfalls, cool their feet in moun- 
tain streams, pause to drink wine in a cave, pick herbs, and sail downstream in a 
catamaran. At some sites they are accompanied by a Buddhist monk, and at the 
Surpassing Gold Cliff— a natural amphitheater sheltered by an overhanging 
bluff— they join an audience of eleven men listening to an outdoor lecture 
(%• 7)- 



The autobiographical content of Mountain Villa becomes even clearer when we 
consider the special nature of the painting's subject matter, for the landscape it 
depicts is not simply anonymous mountain terrain but a rambling, unwalled 
garden designed by the artist himself. Here Li Kung-lin installed discreetly 
placed paths, bridges, man-made ponds, platforms, and huts that transformed 
his property into a subtly controlled environment for pleasure and contem- 
plation. Although Chinese scholars had created, written about, and painted 
pictures of gardens for many centuries, the Northern Sung witnessed an un- 
precedented flourishing of garden art, nurtured not only by the dynasty's eco- 
nomic and political stability but also by the emergence of scholar-officials such 
as Li Kung-lin as the new elite of Chinese society. Poems and essays of the 
period amply document that, in addition to painting, calligraphy, and poetry, 
garden building flourished as a characteristic product of Northern Sung elite 
culture both in cities and in rural retreats. 

Literature about gardens from this period shows that for Northern Sung schol- 
ars, garden building inevitably was an expression of the garden owner's mind.^^ 
One of the most compelling ways through which a proprietor asserted his taste 
and character in his garden was by giving poetic names to its structures and 
scenic spots. At Lung-mien, site names chosen by Li Kung-lin, like the man- 
made improvements he installed, helped to transform an anonymous landscape 
into a true garden. Lodge of Establishing Virtue, the name Li chose for his 
homestead and the principal structure at Lung-mien, alludes to a story by 
Chuang-tzu. In a place called Chien-te, or Establishing Virtue, people are "sim- 
ple and naive, few in thoughts of self, scant in desires. "^^ Li Kung-lin's choice of 
this name announces that the life he leads in the mountains is simple, un- 
worldly, and rustic. Other names Li chose articulated his imaginative responses 
to the topography of the land and allow us to see it through his eyes. He chose 
the name Necklace Cliff, for example, for a site where a waterfall rushing down a 
cliff recalled the shapes of necklaces worn by Buddhist deities. At the Ling-ling 
Valley, streams coursing into a pool suggested to Li the words ling-ling, an 
onomatopoeic compound for the sound of splashing water. 

Six of the twenty site names Li Kung-lin chose come from the vocabulary of 
Buddhism and reflect his lifelong interest in this religion, both as a source of 
subjects for his painting and as a personal belief. Although often said to have 
declined in China after the fall of the T'ang dynasty (618-906), Buddhism, espe- 
cially the Ch'an sect (known in the West by its Japanese name, Zen), attracted 
many of the best minds of the Northern Sung and thoroughly penetrated schol- 
arly life. ^3 Li Kung-lin painted many Buddhist subjects, including illustrations 
of sutras, iconic representations of deities, the gathering of arhats, and imagi- 
nary portraits of famous monks and laymen. Unlike the Buddhist paintings of 
Wu Tao-tzu (8th century) of the T'ang, brushed with great boldness on temple 
walls and intended to inspire awe, Li's small-scale works, usually in his charac- 



teristic pai-miao (ink outline) style on paper, were done for the private enjoyment 
of his literary friends. His paintings also could function, however, as fully 
efficacious icons. When Su Shih's second wife died in 1093, he asked Li to paint 
the images of Sakyamuni Buddha and his Ten Great Disciples, which Su dedi- 
cated as a votive offering to the memory of the dead woman. ^4 

Of all the sites in Mountain Villa, it is a rustic building serving as a combination 
Buddhist retreat and artist's studio that Li Kung-lin depicts in the greatest detail. 
This site, the Hall of Ink Meditation, includes what may be the only self-portrait 
of an artist at work in all of Sung-dynasty painting (fig. 8). Inside a thatched hut, 
while their servants busy themselves in the antechambers, two men work at a 
large table. Li Kung-lin can be identified as the man who sits at the right, 
writing, or perhaps painting, a scroll; the man seated across from him copying a 
text that lies open on the table is probably Li Ch'ung-yiian, who collaborated 
with Li Kung-lin to produce a set of illustrated scrolls of the Hua-yen Sutra. ^5 
Ink stones, extra brushes, and a ewer rest on the table between the two men. 
Hanging on a partition at the back of the room is a scroll, probably the work of Li 



Kung-lin himself, depicting the Amida Buddha seated on a lotus throne. On a 
small table in front of this icon are two wooden boxes, two vases of flowers, an 
incense burner, and two ching-p'ing, or "pure bottles," which contain water used 
for ablutions in Buddhist ceremonies. The blinds that form the front wall of the 
room are raised, and a Buddhist chime hangs from the rafters at the right. 

This extraordinary image illustrates the idea suggested by the name of the hut, 
the Hall of Ink Meditation. "Ink meditation" (mo-ch'an) recalls the term "ink 
guest" (mo-k'e), a poetic euphemism for scholars or poets. In the context of site 
names at Li Kung-lin's retreat, the words "ink meditation" allude to the highly 
literary form of Buddhism, called wen-tzu ch'an, or "lettered Ch'an," practiced 
by his scholarly friends, such as Su Shih.^^ Li's painting seems to illustrate that 
no less than meditation or other Buddhist practices, painting and calligraphy— 
ink meditation— can be means of achieving insight and, quite possibly, enlight- 
enment itself. Su Ch'e acknowledges this truth in his poem for this scene: 

This mind has never been attached, 

merged in meditation Ich'an] with all things. 

How is it that a single ball of ink 

can unfold into all these hills and streamsl'^7 

Like the landscape theorist and Buddhist layman Tsung Ping (375-443)/ Su Ch'e 
expresses wonder at the painter's ability to produce images whose power to 
move the viewer is comparable to that of real landscape. Li's painted image and 
Su Ch'e's response to it also suggest that in the minds of Northern Sung scholars 
there was no conflict between painting or other cultural pursuits and the path to 
Buddhist salvation. 

Politics, Painting, and Friendship 

Aside from what Li Kung-lin shows us in Mountain Villa, we know little of his 
years of retreat in the 1070s. He surely had married by this time, and his two 
children, a boy and a girl, probably were born during this decade. One highlight 
of these years was the visit Li paid to Wang An-shih in Nanking sometime after 
1076, when Wang retired there after leaving government service. This visit is 
documented in poems Wang wrote for Li and in a portrait of the retired states- 
man that Li Kung-lin painted on the wall of Wang's studio on the grounds of a 
Buddhist temple. ^9 In light of his later friendships with Wang's political oppo- 
nents, the brothers Su Shih and Su Ch'e, it may seem surprising that Li should 
have been on such good terms with Wang An-shih. Some have seen in 
his apparent sympathy for Wang's faction a tendency toward political fence- 
straddling. But in fact, the animosity felt by Su Shih and members of his circle 
toward Wang An-shih may have been exaggerated by later partisans of the war- 
ring reform and conservative camps. Li's amiable relationship with both Wang 
An-shih and the Su brothers is more understandable when we recall that Su Shih 



himself seems not to have held a grudge against the older man: Su called on 
Wang An-shih in Nanking in 1084, chatting with his old political foe and even 
toying with the idea of becoming his neighbor. 

Whether owing to financial necessity or a favorable response to changes in the 
political scene, Li ended his self-imposed exile and left the Lung-mien Mountains 
in 1079. In the spring of that year, he was in K'ai-feng as a member of the staff 
administering the first chin-shih examinations of the Yiian-feng (1078-86) reign. 
There is no indication, however, that Li had yet accepted a full-time government 
post. How he came to be appointed to the examination staff is not known, but it 
was the initial step in the beginning of a long-deferred official career. 

While Li was in the capital he widened his circle of literary friends, meeting the 
men who would become his intellectual soul mates and for whom he produced 
most of his paintings. It was probably during this period that he first met the 
poet and calligrapher Huang T'ing-chien. Huang, who had been serving in the 
capital since 1072 as an instructor at the National Academy, initiated the friend- 
ship by asking Li, whom he had not yet met, for a portrait of the T'ang 
poet Wang Wei.^^ Although Huang was somewhat disappointed by the portrait, 
in which Wang Wei sported a full beard, he and Li became close friends. Of all 
Li's literary associates, none wrote more extensively about his paintings than 
Huang T'ing-chien, who acknowledged that his conversations with Li about 
painting and poetry, especially the concept ofyiin, or "resonance," greatly deep- 
ened his own understanding of these arts. ^3 When Huang T'ing-chien left the 
capital in 1080 to become prefect of T'ai-ho district (Kiangsi), Li Kung-lin, who 
soon would become District Defender in Nan-k'ang (Kiangsi), either traveled 
with him from K'ai-feng or met Huang as the latter passed through Lu-chou and 
visited the Lung-mien Mountains. Huang commemorated this visit to Li's be- 
loved mountains in a witty quatrain playing on the words lung mien (literally, 
"dragon sleeps"): 

Among the several mountains, where does the dragon sleep? 
In former days the dragon slept, today he is awake. 
Hearing the Way, he has followed a cloudy aura and departed, 
For it was not fitting that he rain only on a single plot of fields. '^'^ 

Huang T'ing-chien's poem for Li pokes gentle fun at his new friend, who, like a 
long-slumbering dragon rousing himself to action, had at last begun his career 
in earnest. 

Li Kung-lin's post in Nan-k'ang was his first full-time job, assumed when he was 
nearly forty years old. About 1083, he was transferred to Ch'ang-yiian (Honan), 
a district in the metropolitan prefecture, not far from K'ai-feng. This move to the 
area of the capital was not accompanied by an elevation in rank: his new position 
was the same as that he had held in Nan-k'ang, District Defender, an appoint- 
ment frequently given to new chin-shih holders but not a particularly distin- 



Figure 9. Chang Tse-tuan (early 
12th century), detail from Spring 
Festival on the River. Handscroll, 
ink and light color on silk, 
9-^/4 X208V4 in. (24.8x528.7 cm). 
Palace Museum, Beijing 

guished achievement for a mature scholar like Li Kung-lin. It was just before the 
end of his tenure in Ch'ang-yiian that Li painted at least one version of the 
Classic of Filial Piety. In an inscription he wrote on the painting, Li explained that 
at the suggestion of a certain Secretary Yang, he "chose one or two ideas" from 
the text and completed the scroll in the second month of 1085.^5 

A month later, after nineteen years on the throne. Emperor Shen-tsung died 
suddenly. Because his heir. Emperor Che-tsung (r. 1085-1101), was only ten 
years old, Shen-tsung's mother, the empress dowager Hsiian-jen (d. 1093), be- 
came regent, and in 1086 a new reign title, Yiian-yu (1086-94), was proclaimed. 
Under the regency of the empress dowager, Wang An-shih's reform policies were 
dismantled and the conservative party, led by Ssu-ma Kuang, returned to 
power. Within a short time the capital was filled with a group of brilliantly 
talented writers, calligraphers, and amateur painters, many of them recalled 
from remote postings to staff the central government administration under the 
new emperor. The years Li Kung-lin spent working among these men, from 
about 1086 to 1094, constituted the golden age of Northern Sung scholarly cul- 
ture and were for Li himself the most productive period of his career as an artist. 

Li Kung-lin was summoned to the capital early in the Yiian-yu reign, thanks to 
the recommendation of his friend and fellow 1070 chin-shih graduate Lu Tien. Li 
had arrived in K'ai-feng by early 1086 and established a residence in the eastern 
suburbs of the city, not far from the Rainbow Bridge, in the very area depicted in 



the opening sections of Chang Tse-tuan's (early 12th century?) great panorama 
of urban life Spring Festival on the River (fig. 9). Although Li's new position in the 
central government. Reviser in the Rear Section of the Secretariat Chancellery, 
has an impressive ring, it was in fact a low-ranking court post in which Li was 
required to edit official documents concerning the domestic administration of 
the imperial palace. 

During his years in K'ai-feng, Li's closest associates were Su Shih, Su Ch'e, and 
Huang T'ing-chien, all recalled to the capital at the beginning of the Yiian-yu 
reign. After five years of banishment, travel, and a brief provincial assignment, 
Su Shih returned to the capital to join the staff of the Ministry of Rites late in 
1085. His younger brother, Su Ch'e, arrived shortly after him and took up a new 
post in the Palace Library, where Huang T'ing-chien was a newly appointed 
editor, charged with compiling the Veritable Records of Emperor Shen-tsung's 
reign. Other close friends of Li Kung-lin who were summoned to the capital 
were the poets Ch'in Kuan (1049-1100), Chang Lei (1054-1114), and Ch'ao Pu- 
chih (1053-1110)— all followers of Su Shih — and the imperial son-in-law and 
painter Wang Shen (1036-after 1100). 

Li Kung-lin's friendships with these men directly inspired most of the paintings 
he produced during his years in the capital. Unlike professional artists, Li did 
not paint on commission nor did he intend his paintings to be appreciated by a 
wide audience. When "persons of wealth and position" who wished to obtain 
his paintings approached him with requests, he stubbornly refused to respond; 
when asked for paintings by noted scholars, however, Li painted even for those 
he did not know.^^ ^s Wai-kam Ho has pointed out, it is impossible to under- 
stand the art of such Northern Sung scholar-officials as Li Kung-lin without 
recognizing the intimate relationship between art and friendship in their lives. ^7 
Among these men, as never before in China, painting began to function as a 
currency of friendship, serving much the same role that poetry had traditionally 
served as a private language accessible only to a highly literate elite. 

Su Shih requested or inspired more paintings than any of Li's other associates in 
K'ai-feng. After writing out the Classic of the Yellow Court in his matchless cal- 
ligraphy, he had Li Kung-lin paint a frontispiece for the text. Li also added a 
portrait of himself and Su Shih at the end of the scroll. ^9 In another portrait of Su 
Shih, Li depicted his friend sitting on a large rock. Huang T'ing-chien thought 
that this resembled Su Shih in a state of drunkenness, and he decided to ask Li 
for a similar portrait to display at gatherings of Su's friends. 3° In 1087 or 1088, Su 
Shih asked Li Kung-lin to paint a work titled Three Horses. This scroll depicted 
horses presented to the Northern Sung court by various barbarian tribes and 
included a portrait of a tribal chieftain who had been captured by the Chinese 
and presented to the emperor in 1087. Su Shih was greatly impressed by this rare 
example of the dynasty's military success in dealing with its menacing non- 
Chinese neighbors. The painting must have been one of Su's favorites, for he 



took it with him into exile to Hui-chou (Kwangtung) and inscribed it in 1097.31 
Su's final request for a painting from Li, made shortly before the two men parted 
for good, apparently was for the Buddhist images mentioned earlier that Su Shih 
had dedicated to his wife's memory in 1093. Although Mountain Villa was not 
painted at Su Shih's request, he and Su Ch'e were the first friends with whom Li 
Kung-lin shared his record of life in the Lung-mien Mountains. 

In addition to requesting or inspiring paintings by Li Kung-lin, Su Shih also 
collaborated with Li in producing them. Shortly after the two men arrived in the 
capital, they collaborated on a painting of a pine tree and rocks, which they 
presented to one of Su's relatives, Liu Chung-yuan.32 Later, Liu asked Li Kung- 
lin to add beneath the trees the figure of a foreign Buddhist monk. Li did so, 
transforming the painting into an illustration of lines from a poem by Tu Fu 
(712-770) that described such a scene. 33 Su Ch'e wrote a poem praising the 
painting, which bore the title Easy Rest, and Huang T'ing-chien composed two 
more. 34 Su and Li are said to have painted other collaborative works showing 
Su's favorite poet, T'ao Ch'ien (365-427), washing his feet, and another painting 
of a monk watching fish. 35 

Li Kung-lin's friendship with Su Shih also led to the production of paintings in 
the unlikely setting of the examination hall. In the spring of 1088, Su Shih 
served as Chief Examination Administrator for the departmental chin-shih exam- 
inations. He appointed as his assistants Huang T'ing-chien, Li Kung-lin, Ch'ao 
Pu-chih, and several other scholars from his circle of friends. During the weeks 
that the men were sequestered in the Imperial University, where the examina- 
tions were administered and graded, they found time to produce flurries of 
poetry. 36 Li Kung-lin also made several paintings. One evening Su Shih visited 
Li's quarters and found his friend suffering from stomach trouble and unable to 
eat. According to Su Shih, Li expressed his discomfort by painting a picture of a 
horse rolling in the dirt. Su, Huang T'ing-chien, Ch'ao Pu-chih, and several 
other examiners all wrote quatrains for this humorous sketch, which Li said he 
had done quite impetuously, taking up a piece of paper when he felt the horse 
"stomping to enter his brush. "37 This amusing vignette illustrates how thor- 
oughly painting had become a part of everyday life for Li Kung-lin and his 
friends. Like occasional poems, which could be inspired by almost any event, 
Li's painting could transform even the most mundane experience into art. 

Although most of Li Kung-lin's paintings during his years in K'ai-feng were 
produced for his famous literary friends— men celebrated during their own life- 
times for their poetry, prose, and calligraphy— Li also painted for less illustrious 
figures whose names are now almost forgotten. He offered several of his paint- 
ings as parting gifts to men who were leaving the capital. The most admired of 
these works, painted in 1086 for a man named An Fen-sou, was the Yang Pass, an 
illustration of Wang Wei's poem "Farewell to Yuan the Second on His Mission to 
An-hsi."38 Like the man to whom Wang Wei addressed his poem in the eighth 



century. An Fen-sou was setting out for the remote northwestern corner of the 
Chinese empire, to a posting in Ho-hsi (modern Kansu). Li Kung-lin presented 
An with both the painting and a quatrain. Although poems had been written as 
parting gifts for centuries, Li Kung-Hn may have been the first to combine a 
painting with a poem as a farewell offering. 39 Claiming that he was unable to 
express his feelings in words, Li made another painting of farewell, titled Pre- 
senting Credentials, for Liu Ching-wen, who was setting out to take office in Ta- 
ming (Hopei).4o A painting of a similar theme by Li titled Ch'in and Crane 
depicted an official named Chao Pien (1008-1084), who carried with him to a 
posting in Szechwan only a pet crane and his ch'in. 4^ 

Informal visits with friends also could lead to painting. While calling on Chang 
Lei in 1086, Li dashed off a picture of two horses. 42 In the summer of 1089, during 
a visit to Lu Tien, Li Kung-lin was suddenly inspired to paint a portrait of Wang 
An-shih, whom he had visited in Nanking in the 1070s and with whom Lu Tien 
had studied as a young man. 43 And when Huang Shu-ta and Ch'en Lii-ch'ang 
stopped by Li's home in K'ai-feng one evening on their way back from the Fa-yiin 
Monastery, where they had visited the Ch'an abbot Fa-hsiu (1027-1090), Li 
commemorated the occasion with a portrait of the two men. This painting showed 
Huang, dressed in a white robe, riding a donkey and singing while Ch'en walked 
behind, supporting himself with a staff— a sight so odd that residents of the 
capital were said to have mistaken the two men for a pair of immortals. 44 

Although Li Kung-lin fulfilled many requests from his friends, at least once he 
failed to produce a promised painting. His friend Ts'ai Chao {chin-shih 1079), 
who eventually composed Li's epitaph, once began a painting of some old trees 
and asked Li to finish it by adding river scenery, geese, and a boat— images Ts'ai 
conjured up in a poem he had written to complement the hoped-for painting. Li 
agreed to paint these images, but his laziness got the best of him, Ts'ai Chao 
complained, and the painting had to be finished by another artist. 45 

Another friend who played an important role in Li's life as a painter in K'ai-feng 
was Ts'ao Fu {chin-shih 1063). This man, who had once served on an examination 
staff with Li Kung-lin, was Chief Minister of the Imperial Stud during the early 
years of the Yiian-yu reign. Through his friendship with Ts'ao Fu, Li Kung-lin 
gained ready access to the imperial stables. There, he spent long hours studying 
the horses, so absorbed in his equine studies that he ignored other guests. It was 
apparently Li's fascination with the horses, many of which had been presented 
by foreign states, that inspired one of his most famous horse paintings. Five 
Tribute Horses. Now rumored to be in a private collection in Japan, this scroll was 
painted in K'ai-feng sometime between 1088, when the last of the horses Li 
depicted arrived at the court, and 1090, when Huang T'ing-chien wrote his 
colophon for the scroll. 46 During this period of Li's frequent visits to the imperial 
stables, which probably ended in 1088 when Ts'ao Fu left the capital, the Ch'an 
abbot Fa-hsiu issued his famous warning to the painter: if Li persisted in paint- 



ing the animals, he would risk being reincarnated as a horse. 47 Fa-hsiu's stern 
words were said to have shocked Li into giving up horse painting in favor of 
Buddhist subjects; but, in fact, Li had been interested in Buddhism for many 
years before this, and there is no proof that he ever cured himself of his love of 
horses. Fa-hsiu's warning did, however, become an inside joke among Li's 
friends. When the monk cautioned Huang T'ing-chien about his excessive use of 
sensual language in his poetry, Huang asked if he, too, could expect to be 
punished by "ending up in the belly of a horse. "48 

The Artist as Antiquarian 

Li Kung-lin's great fame as a painter has obscured his activities in a field that was 
equally important or, perhaps, even more important to him than his painting — 
collecting and studying the art of the distant past. His interest in collecting was 
fostered by his father, Li Hsti-i, who had assembled a distinguished collection of 
early calligraphy and painting. While he was still very young, Li Kung-lin began 
to study and copy works by the T'ang masters Wang Wei and Han Kan (715- 
after 781) that were owned by his father. This early introduction to works by 
great painters of the past enabled Li to "grasp the brushwork conception of the 
ancients"49 and permanently fixed his taste for classical traditions of art. Li 
Kung-lin himself owned paintings by Chan Tzu-ch'ien (active ca. 581-609), Wu 
Tao-tzu, Han Kan, and Chou Fang (ca. 730-780). Although this list of works is 
impressive, Li did not collect paintings as voraciously as his friends Mi Fu (1052- 
1107) or Wang Shen, and he never wrote systematically about the scrolls he 

As a collector of bronzes and jades, however, Li amassed a collection that proba- 
bly rivaled any outside the imperial palace or the households of imperial rela- 
tives. All the early biographies of Li speak of his wide knowledge of bronze 
vessels and jades and of his unparalleled expertise in deciphering archaic 
scripts. Li gained his erudition in these matters not merely by studying early 
texts but also by examining and purchasing ancient objects. According to Teng 
Ch'un's Hua-chi, "[Li] searched widely for ancient vessels, such as bells and 
caldrons, as well as for precious [jade] objects such as kuei tablets and pi discs. "50 
Teng Ch'un also goes so far as to say that the energy Li Kung-lin channeled into 
his painting was only that left over from his antiquarian pursuits. When Li 
heard of an outstanding piece, he would think nothing of spending a large sum 
to acquire it, and a visitor to his home in K'ai-feng would have found rooms 
crowded with imposing objects from the Shang, Chou, and Han dynasties. 

Much of Li Kung-lin's collection can be reconstructed by consulting the K'ao-ku 
t'u, a catalogue of ancient bronzes and jades compiled by the Neo-Confucian 
philosopher Lu Ta-lin (1044-1093). In addition to wood-block illustrations, this 
text contains facsimiles of rubbings and transcriptions of characters cast or 



carved on the objects, records of their sizes and weights, provenance, and 
owners, in addition to notes on miscellaneous historical and epigraphical points 
written by Lii Ta-lin himself or copied from other sources. 5^ Of the total of 225 
items catalogued, 55 are bronzes from the collection of Li Kung-lin. These in- 
clude ting, tun, yi, yu, hu, ku, chiieh, and eight other types of ritual vessels from 
the Shang and Chou, as well as a bronze crossbow trigger, a halberd, and a 
bronze knife. Lii Ta-lin also recorded several Han-dynasty bronze lamps, an 
oven, belt hooks, and incense burners, all owned by Li Kung-lin. Because Li's 
collection included such a variety of bronze types from several dynasties, it is 
evident that his goal as a collector was to assemble a comprehensive survey of 
the bronze caster's art. 

Chapter 8 of Lii Ta-lin's K'ao-ku t'u is devoted entirely to sixteen jades owned by 
Li Kung-lin. Li mentions nine of these in his preface to an essay by Su Shih titled 
"Record of the Washing Jade Basin. "52 According to Li's preface, in 1093 he 
obtained a Ma-t'ai stone and set it up in his studio. When Su Shih saw it, 
he urged Li to hollow out the stone to create a basin, in which, Su Shih said, Li 
could bathe his jades from time to time to bring out their luster. Su's "Record of 
the Washing Jade Basin" was inscribed on the basin's rim, and, at Su's sugges- 
tion, Li Kung-lin carved the shapes of his jades on its exterior. After Li's death, 
his son presented the basin to Emperor Hui-tsung (r. 1100-1126), taking care 
first to eradicate the text by Su Shih, whose writings were then proscribed. Hui- 
tsung eventually acquired all of Li Kung-lin's jades, with the exception of the lu- 
lu ring, which was buried with Li in his grave near Shu-ch'eng.53 

The objects in Li Kung-lin's collection were the foundation of his study of ar- 
chaeology. His major contribution to this field was a now-lost text in five chap- 
ters completed sometime before 1091 and titled K'ao-ku t'u, the same title Lii 
Ta-lin would give the catalogue he compiled a year or two later. 54 Although Li 
Kung-lin was one of many Northern Sung scholars who conducted epigraphical, 
archaeological, and antiquarian research and published treatises and catalogues 
on these subjects, he treated ancient bronzes and other artifacts not merely as 
sources of historical information but also as art objects, classifying them by 
categories of nomenclature that are still used today and recording important 
information about their origins, sizes, and functions. Li's text probably was the 
earliest catalogue to include extensive illustrations, another sign that his interest 
in the objects encompassed their purely aesthetic qualities. According to an 
early-twelfth-century source that describes Li Kung-lin's K'ao-ku t'u: 

For each object in each chapter he made an illustration and wrote a text. He 
explained the shapes of the objects and the engravings on them, the meanings 
of inscriptions, and the ways the objects were used. He summarized [his find- 
ings] in a preface and a postface. This was widely circulated, and scholars know 
that paying attention to the study of ting and yi of the Three Dynasties really 
began with [Li] Po-shih. 55 



From this description it is clear that the format of Li Kung-Hn's K'ao-ku t'u was 
the model for Lii Ta-lin's catalogue, which contains nearly thirty entries copied 
from Li Kung-lin's lost text. 56 The most important of all Northern Sung archae- 
ological catalogues, Hsuan-ho po-ku t'u lu, compiled at the command of Emperor 
Hui-tsung in the early twelfth century, also was based on the format of Li's K'ao- 
ku t'u and followed the system of nomenclature he used. 57 

It was through his private endeavors as a collector and an antiquarian that Li 
Kung-lin left his only mark on Sung political history, bringing about the change 
of a reign title and, indirectly, helping to advance the career of the infamous 
Ts'ai Ching (1046-1126), the corrupt prime minister of Emperor Hui-tsung's 
reign. This curious sequence of events began in 1096, when a certain Tuan I of 
Hsien-yang district (Shensi), site of the Ch'in-dynasty (249-207 B.C.) capital, 
excavated a luminous blue-green jade seal. The next year, after Tuan I presented 
this object to the court, Che-tsung commanded the Ministry of Rites, the Censo- 
rate, and other lower-ranking bureaus to investigate the seal's origins. In the 
third month of 1098, Ts'ai Ching, who was then a Recipient of Edicts in the Han- 
lin Academy, and thirteen other officials who had discussed the seal reported 
their findings in a memorial. 58 After consulting jade craftsmen and studying 
catalogues of seals and standard histories, they concluded that the seal was from 
the Ch'in dynasty and that it had been carved by the prime minister Li Ssu 
(d. 208 B.C.). The text of the seal, written in an archaic form of characters called 
"worm script," read: "Receive the mandate of heaven, in long life enjoy lasting 

Coming to light during Che-tsung's reign, Ts'ai Ching argued, the seal was a 
potent sign of Heaven's favor; though carved during the reign of the despised 
First Emperor of Ch'in (r. 221-210 b.c), the seal had been captured by Kao-tsu 
(247-195 B.C.), founder of the illustrious Han dynasty (206 b.c.-a.d. 220), and 
became a symbol of dynastic legitimacy. To commemorate the appearance of this 
auspicious omen, which the memorial refers to as a ling-fu, or numinous tally, 
Ts'ai Ching urged the emperor to change the title of his reign. Che-tsung ac- 
cepted this advice and, in the sixth month of 1098, after a ceremony enshrining 
the seal as a state treasure, changed the title of his reign from Shao-sheng, or 
"Continued Sageness," to Yuan-fu, or "Primal Tally." 

What Ts'ai Ching's memorial omits is Li Kung-lin's role in the affair. Nearly one 
third of Li's biography in the Sung-shih, the official history of the Sung dynasty, 
is devoted to an account of his identification of the seal. When discussions 
among various scholars at court yielded no consensus on the seal's significance, 
Li Kung-lin was asked to settle the matter. The jade itself, Li argued, came from 
Lan-t'ien, in Hsien-yang district, and was the kind used during the Ch'in for the 
manufacture of imperial seals. The inscription and the method of carving, 
which, Li explained, was accomplished with a k'un-wu knife after the jade had 
been softened with toad grease, established that the seal had been made by 



Li Ssu himself. 59 Although he was not credited in the memorial presented by 
Ts'ai Ching, it was probably in recognition of this impressive display of knowl- 
edge that Li was awarded the title Gentleman for Court Service. To his contem- 
poraries in the capital, this was undoubtedly the high point of Li's otherwise 
humdrum official career. 

Return to Lung-mien 

According to the biography of Li Kung-lin in the Hsuan-ho hua-p'u, Li never 
forgot his beloved mountains and streams at Lung-mien during all his years in 
office. On holidays in the capital, he indulged his love of landscape by visiting 
gardens and scenic spots around the city in the company of one or two friends, 
avoiding "persons of wealth and authority. "6° His longing for a reclusive life and 
his lack of ambition puzzled some of his associates at court, who found it re- 
grettable that Li had achieved fame only as a painter and had never risen to high 
office. Huang T'ing-chien once felt moved to defend his friend by explaining 
that Li was "... a man of the hills and the valleys. As to the passing glory of a 
famous name or the trappings of high rank, these are things with which he 
never concerned himself. "^^ Li's yearning to escape the confines of life in of- 
ficialdom was expressed in his Mountain Villa, as well as in other paintings, such 
as his several depictions of T'ao Ch'ien, the hermit admired most by Sung 

Before his departure from the capital, Li Kung-lin filled one final position in the 
central government, that of Legal Researcher in the Imperial Censorate. Li owed 
his transfer to the Censorate to Tung Tun-i (d. ca. iiio), an official who had won 
an excellent reputation for local administration and who was made Investigating 
Censor in 1091. The relationship between Tung and Li sheds light on an incident 
that has long puzzled the artist's biographers. According to Ch'ao Yiieh-chih 
(1059-1129), after Su Shih was banished to Kwangtung in 1094, Li happened to 
meet two of Su's followers on the street in K'ai-feng. Rather than greeting these 
men closely associated with his old friend, Li hid his face behind his fan and 
pretended not to see them.^^ Interpreting this as a sign of disloyalty to Su Shih, 
Ch'ao Yiieh-chih developed an intense dislike of Li and disposed of all Li's 
paintings in his collection. In spite of Ch'ao Yiieh-chih's indignant interpretation 
of Li Kung-lin's actions, there is no evidence that Su Shih and Li had parted as 
anything but the best of friends. Why, then, should Li have snubbed his old 
friend's followers on the streets of K'ai-feng? An answer emerges when this 
event is interpreted in the context of late-eleventh-century political life. After 
the death of the empress dowager Hsiian-jen in 1093, her grandson, the young 
emperor Che-tsung, assumed personal control of the government. Intent on 
reviving the reform policies favored by his father, Shen-tsung, and eager to 
distance himself from men closely associated with his domineering grand- 
mother, Che-tsung sanctioned the banishment of Su Shih, Su Ch'e, Huang 



T'ing-chien, and many others to remote provincial posts. With this sudden shift 
in the poHtical fortunes of his closest friends, Li Kung-Hn had good reason to 
beHeve that his own official career, lackluster though it was, would soon be 
ruined. His unwillingness to acknowledge publicly his association with the 
then-disgraced Su Shih by greeting Su's followers on the street can be seen as an 
understandable faltering of courage. 

But there was a more subtle, and perhaps more painful, reason for Li Kung-lin to 
avoid Su Shih's followers. Tung Tun-i, who had recommended Li for the Censo- 
rate, was a determined enemy of Su Shih. Appointed to the Censorate in 1091, 
Tung immediately accused Su of having offended the memory of the late em- 
peror Shen-tsung in an improperly worded memorial. Fortunately, thanks to the 
support of the empress dowager, Su Shih was cleared of this charge, and Tung 
was temporarily dismissed from the Censorate. But in 1094, after Su Shih had 
left the capital and Che-tsung had come to power, Tung Tun-i was restored to his 
former post and began launching fresh attacks on Su. Suddenly encountering Su 
Shih's disciples and abruptly reminded that the man responsible for his own rise 
also was responsible for the persecution of his close friend, Li Kung-lin had 
good cause to take refuge behind a discreetly held fan. This small moral compro- 
mise would seem to suggest that even Li Kung-lin, the unworldly hermit, could 
no longer remain untainted by the bitter factionalism that had disrupted the 
lives of his most intimate associates. 

About 1097, after his closest friends had been banished from the capital, Li 
Kung-lin left the city for the last time to take up the post of Administrative 
Supervisor in Ssu-chou (Anhwei). In 1100, owing to illness, he asked to be 
relieved of his official duties, and he returned home to the Lung-mien Moun- 
tains. The illness that is said to have precipitated Li's final retirement was a form 
of paralysis that disabled his right hand. Although this disability may indeed 
have become acute by the time Li finally retired from all involvement in govern- 
ment, he had suffered from trouble in his arm for over a decade. In 1088, writing 
about one of Li's horse paintings, Huang T'ing-chien sadly commented that Li's 
affliction made it impossible for him to work. By the next year, however, Li had 
recovered sufficiently to paint for Lu Tien the portrait of Wang An-shih men- 
tioned earlier. But even during those periods when Li was confined to bed, his 
thoughts were focused on his art. On one occasion, while he was lying sick in 
bed and moaning with pain, Li began to move his hand across his blanket as if 
he were painting. When his family admonished him, he laughed and said it was 
an old habit he could not break. ^3 

Little is known of the final years of Li Kung-lin's life. Sequestered at his retreat, 
separated from his famous friends, Li once again became a sleeping dragon 
among the cliffs and ravines of Lung-mien. There, Li died at home in 1106. 



1. For a survey of recent studies of the relationship between degree-holding and elite status, see 
Patricia Ebrey, "The Dynamics of Elite Domination in Sung China," Harvard Journal of Asiatic 
Studies 48, no. 2 (1988), pp. 493-519. 

2. See John Chaffee, The Thorny Gates of Learning: A Social History of Examinations (Cambridge, 1985), 
table 26, p. 198. Although some sources state that Li Kung-lin was a descendant of the Southern 
T'ang imperial family, there is evidence that this claim may have been untrue. See Robert E. 
Harrist, Jr., "Li Kung-lin: A Note on the Origins of His Family," National Palace Museum Bulletin 
25, no. 4 (1990). 

3. John King Fairbank, The Great Chinese Revolution, 1800-1985 (New York, 1986), p. 129. 

4. In Chang Lei, K'o-shan chi, in Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu chen-pen ssu chi, vol. 249 (Taipei, 1973), chiian 29, 
p. 14b. 

5. Su Shun-ch'in, "Chi ti hou yii t'ung-nien yen Li ch'eng-hsiang chai," in Su Shun-ch'in chi 
(Shanghai, 1961), chuan 1, p. 4; translated by Thomas H. C. Lee, in Government Education and 
Examinations in Sung China (Hong Kong, 1985), p. 164. 

6. Richard M. Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u: Illustrations of the 'Classic of Filial Piety'" 
(Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1967), p. 9. 

7. Chang Ch'eng, Hua-lu kuang-i, in Mei-shu ts'ung-shu, vol. 16 (Shanghai, 1947), shang, p. 65. 

8. The Hermit of Lung-mien (Lung-mien chii-shih) is a style name that Li Kung-lin chose for 
himself. Po-shih, his courtesy name, was the form in which he was commonly addressed by his 

9. For a study of this painting, see Robert E. Harrist, Jr., "A Scholar's Landscape: Shan-chuang t'u by 
Li Kung-lin" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1989). 

10. Su Shih, "Shu Li Po-shih shan-chuang t'u hou," in Tung-p'o t'i-pa, in I-shu ts'ung-pien, vol. 22 
(Taipei, 1962), chiian 5, pp. 95-96; and Su Ch'e, "T'i Li Kung-lin shan-chuang t'u erh-shih shou 
ping hsii," in Luan-ch'eng chi (Shanghai, 1987), vol. 1, chiian 16, pp. 386-91. For a partial English 
translation of Su Shih's colophon, see Hsiao-yen Shih and Susan Bush, eds.. Early Chinese Texts on 
Painting (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), pp. 206-7. 

11. For a survey of Northern Sung gardens, see Harrist, "A Scholar's Landscape," chap. 3. 

12. Translation, with author's modifications, from Burton Watson, trans.. The Complete Works of 
Chuang-tzu (New York, 1968), p. 211. 

13. See Robert M. Gimello, "Marga and Culture: Learning, Letters, and Liberation in Northern Sung 
Ch'an," in Robert E. Buswell, Jr., and Robert M. Gimello, eds.. Paths to Liberation: The Marga and 
Its Transformation in Buddhist Thought, Kurokawa Institute Studies in East Asian Buddhism 7 
(Honolulu, 1992), pp. 371-437. 

14. For the story of Su's request for these paintings, see Li I-ping, Su Tung-p'o hsin-chuan (Taipei, 
1983), vol. 2, p. 780. 

15. Yeh Meng-te, Pi-shu lu-hua, in Ts'ung-shu chi-ch'eng chien-pien, vol. 2787 (Shanghai, 1935), shang, 
p. 66. 

16. Gimello, "Marga and Culture," p. 381. 

17. Translated by Jonathan Chaves, in Laurance P. Roberts, The Bernard Berenson Collection of Oriental 
Art at Villa I Tatti (New York, 1991), p. 40. 

18. See Tsung Ping, Lun shan-shui hsU, in Yii Chien-hua, ed., Chung-kuo hua-lun lei-pien (Beijing, 
1957), vol. 1, pp. 583-84. 

19. See Harrist, "A Scholar's Landscape," pp. 20-23. 

20. George Hatch, biography of Su Shih, in Herbert Franke, ed.. Sung Biographies, Miinchener 
Ostasiatische Studien 16 (Wiesbaden, 1976), vol. 3, p. 954. 

21. Li Kung-lin describes his activities in the capital in a note appended to a painting done several 
years later. See Wu Shih-tao, Wu Li-pu shih-hua, in Chih-pu-tsu chai ts'ung-shu, vol. 208 (Taipei, 
1966), pp. 34b-35b. 

22. Huang T'ing-chien, "Hsieh-chen tzu-tsan liu shou," in YU-chang Huang hsien-sheng iven-chi, in 
Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an ch'u-pien so-pen, vol. 54 (Taipei, 1967), chiian 14, p. 127. 



23. See the discussion of Huang T'ing-chien's theories of art in Susan Bush, The Chinese Literati on 
Painting: Su Shih (lo^y-iioi) to Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (1^55-1636), Harvard- Yenching Institute Studies 
27 (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), pp. 43-51- 

24. Recorded by Wang Hsiang-chih, Yii-ti chi-sheng (ca. 1221), in Sung-tai ti-li shu ssu-chung (Taipei, 
1963), chUan 46, p. 13b. 

25. Chou Mi, Yun-yen kuo-yen lu, in Mei-shu ts'ung-shu, vol. 6, p. 37. 

26. Hsuan-ho hua-p'u, in 1-shu ts'ung-pien, vol. 9, chiian 7, p. 201. 

27. Wai-kam Ho, "Mi Fei," in Encyclopedia of World Art (New York, 1965), vol. 10, col. 85. 

28. See Bush, Chinese Literati on Painting, pp. 7-9. 

29. Su Tung-p'o ch'Uan-chi (Beijing, 1986), vol. 1, chiian 20, p. 278. 

30. Huang T'ing-chien, "Pa Tung-p'o shu-t'ieh hou," in Shan-ku t'i-pa, in 1-shu ts'ung-pien, vol. 22, 
chiian 5, p. 46. 

31. Su Shih, "San-ma t'u tsan," in Su Shih wen-chi (Beijing, 1986), chiian 21, pp. 610-11. Unfortu- 
nately, none of the paintings Li Kung-lin made for Su Shih has survived. 

32. Su Shih, "T'i ch'i-chi t'u shih," in Tung-p'o t'i-pa, chiian 3, pp. 53-54. 

33. Tu Fu, "Hsi wei shuang-sung t'u ko," in P'eng Ting-ch'iu, ed., Ch'Uan Tang shih (Beijing, i960), 
vol. 4, p. 2305. 

34. Su Ch'e, "Tzu-an yii Li Kung-Hn hsiian-te kung hua ts'ui-shih ku-mu lao seng wei chih ch'i-chi 
t'u t'i ch'i hou," in Luan-ch'eng chi, vol. 1, chiian 15, p. 352; Huang T'ing-chien, "Tz'u yiin Tzu-an 
Tzu-yu t'i ch'i-chi t'u" and "T'i Li Po-shih ch'i-chi t'u," in Yii-chang Huang hsien-sheng wen-chi, 
chiian 5, p. 44. 

35. The painting of T'ao Ch'ien is the subject of a poem by Liu Ts'ung-i (1181-1224), "T'i Su Li ho- 
hua Yiian-ming chiao-tsu t'u," in Ch'en Pang-yen, ed., YU-ting li-tai t'i-hua shih lei, in Ssu-k'u 
ch'uan-shu chen-pen liu-chi, vol. 372 (Taipei, 1976), chiian 37, pp. I5b-i6a. The painting of a monk 
watching fish is mentioned by Huang T'ing-chien in "T'i Li Po-shih hua kuan-yii seng," in Yii- 
chang Huang hsien-sheng wen-chi, chiian 5, p. 46. 

36. For a study of some of these poems, see Ronald Egan, "Poems on Painting: Su Shih and Huang 
T'ing-chien," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 43, no. 2 (1983), pp. 413-51. 

37. Su Shih, "Shu shih-yiian chung shih," in Tung-p'o t'i-pa, in I-shu ts'ung-pien, vol. 22, chiian 3, 
PP- 54-55- 

38. Wang Wei, Wang Yu-ch'eng chi chien-chu, vol. 2 (Taipei, 1977), chiian 14, p. 557. 

39. Bush, Chinese Literati on Painting, pp. 8-9. For Li's poem, titled "Hsiao shih ping hua-chiian feng- 
sung Fen-sou t'ung-nien chi feng i fu Hsi-ho mu-fu," see Sun Shao-yiian, ed., Sheng-hua chi, in 
Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu chen-pen pa-chi, vol. 213 (Taipei, 1978), chiian 1, pp. 22a-22b. 

40. Chang Shih-nan, Yu-huan chi-wen (Beijing, 1980), chiian 9, p. 76. 

41. Su Shih, "T'i Li Po-shih hua Chao Ching-jen ch'in-ho t'u erh shou," in Su Tung-p'o ch'Uan-chi, 
vol. 1, chiian 17, p. 241, 

42. Agnes E. Meyer, Chinese Painting as Reflected in the Thought and Art of Li Lung-mien, iojo-1106 
(New York, 1923), vol. 2, p. 249. 

43. Lu Tien, "Shu Wang Ching-kung yu Chung-shan hou," in T'ao-shan chi, in Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu 
chen-pen pieh-chi, vol. 284 (Taipei, 1975) chiian 11, pp. 7b-8a. 

44. Hu Tzu, T'iao-hsi yU-yin ts'ung-hua ch'ien-chi (Taipei, 1966), chiian 52, p. 353. 

45. Liu Tsai, Man-t'ang wen-chi, in Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu chen-pen chiu-chi, vol. 250 (Taipei, 1979), chiian 
24, pp. i7b-i8b. 

46. See Chou Mi, Yiin-yen kuo-yen lu, pp. 40-41. 

47. HsUan-ho hua-p'u, chiian 7, p. 200. 

48. Recorded in Li O, ed., Sung-shih chi-shih, in Kuo-hsUeh chi-pen ts'ung-shu, vol. 181 (Taipei, 1968), 
chiian 92, p. 2265. 

49. HsUan-ho hua-p'u, chiian 7, p. 197. 

50. Teng Ch'un, Hua-chi, in Yu An-lan, ed,, Hua-shih ts'ung-shu, vol. 1 (Shanghai, 1963), chiian 3, 
p. 12. 



51. The earliest extant edition of Lii's K'ao-ku t'u is dated 1299; copies are in Beijing and the Harvard- 
Yenching Library, Cambridge, Mass. The Wen-yiian-ke ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu edition is based on a 
Northern Sung wood-block edition and includes several entries missing from the 1299 edition. 
For a survey of Sung archaeological catalogues, see R. C. Rudolph, "Preliminary Notes on Sung 
Archaeology," Journal of Asian Studies 22, no. 2 (February 1963), pp. 169-77, ^^'^ Robert Poor, 
"Notes on the Sung Dynasty Archaeological Catalogs," Archives of the Chinese Art Society of 
America 19 (1965), pp. 33-44. 

52. Recorded by Wu Tseng, Neng-kai-chai man-lu (Beijing, i960), chUan 14, p. 402; Su Shih, "Hsi-yii- 
ch'ih ming," in Ching-chin Tung-p'o wen-chi shih-liieh, vol. 2 (Hong Kong, 1979), chiian 59, pp. 

53. Wu Tseng, Neng-kai-chai man-lu, chiian 14, p. 402. 

54. None of the early sources gives a date for Li Kung-lin's K'ao-ku t'u, though in his Chou-shih, Chai 
Ch'i-nien lists this title before another, shorter text on archaeology by Li titled Chou-chien, which 
was completed in 1091. This implies that K'ao-ku t'u was completed before 1091. See Chai Ch'i- 
nien, Chou-shih, in Ts'ung-shu chi-ch'eng chien-pien, vol. 1513 (Shanghai, 1935), p. 11. 

55. Ibid. 

56. This was first noted by the twentieth-century epigrapher Jung Keng in his "Sung-tai chi-chin 
shu-chi shu-p'ing," in Ch'ing-chu Ts'ai Yuan-p'ei liu-shih-wu sui lun-wen chi (Beijing, 1933-35), vol. 
2, pp. 663-65. 

57. Ts'ai T'ao, T'ieh-zvei shan ts'ung-t'an (Beijing, 1983), chiian 4, pp. 79-80. 

58. Li Tao, HsU tzu-chih t'ung-chien ch'ang-pien (reprint, Taipei, 1964), chiian 496, pp. 2a-4a; and Ma 
Tuan-lin, Wen-hsien t'ung-k'ao, vol. i (Shanghai, 1936), chiian 115, p. 1041. 

59. T'o T'o et al., Sung-shih (Beijing, 1977), chiian 444, pp. 13125-26. 

60. HsUan-ho hua-p'u, chiian 7, p. 201. 

61. Colophon for Wu-ma t'u, recorded by Chou Mi in Yiin-yen kuo-yen lu, p. 40. 

62. This story is recorded by Shao Po, in Shao-shih wen-chien hou-lu (Beijing, 1980), chiian 9, p. 76. 

63. HsUan-ho hua-p'u, chiian 7, p. 202. 



Hui-liang J. Chu 

In its present form, Li Kung-lin's calli- 
graphic transcription of the Classic of Filial Piety is divided into sixteen sections; 
each section, except the first, is preceded by an illustration. The text consists of 
eighty-six lines, each of which contains eighteen to twenty-five characters. Most 
of the characters at the top and bottom of each column are missing or fragmen- 
tary as a result of damage sustained by the edges of the silk. When studied 
closely, this calligraphy, like Li's painted illustrations, reveals a brilliantly inno- 
vative synthesis of past styles and a bold departure from prevailing Northern 
Sung tastes (fig. lo). 

The Calligraphy of Li Kung-lin 

By the time Li Kung-lin transcribed the text of the Classic of Filial Piety, about 
1086, Chinese calligraphy was already an ancient art and the subject of a vast 
body of critical and art-historical texts. All the basic script types still in use 
today had reached full maturity centuries before Li's time, and the practice of 
calligraphy was dominated by the styles of several towering figures of the past, 
especially Wang Hsi-chih (ca. 307-ca. 365) and Yen Chen-ch'ing (709-785). For 
the Classic of Filial Piety, Li Kung-lin employed small standard script (hsiao-k'ai), 
a miniaturized version of standard script (k'ai-shu) traditionally used for classical 
texts, government documents, Buddhist sutras, and other contexts for which a 
formal, highly regular form of calligraphy was appropriate. An early master of 
this script was Chung Yu (151-230), a chief minister of the short-lived Wei 
dynasty (220-65). During the Northern Sung, rubbings of works attributed to 
Chung Yu were available in the Calligraphic Works in the Ch'un-hua Palace, an 

imperial anthology of rubbings completed in 992. ^ Although they were copies of f^f^'^hTp^er ^Tf^iheCkslk\f 
Chung Yu's writing made by later calligraphers, two examples of his style were Filial Piety (plate 6) 



Figure ii. The character tzu 

a. Yen Chen-ch'ing (709-785), 
detail from a rubbing of the 

Stele for the Yen Family Shrine, 
dated 770 

b. Li Kung-Hn, detail from 
the Classic of Filial Piety 

especially important in the history of small standard script. Memorial on an 
Announcement to Sun Ch'iian (see fig. 21) and Memorial Celebrating a Victory (see 
fig. 22). 2 Wang Hsi-chih, revered for his mastery of running and cursive script, 
also produced works in small standard script that became important models 
during the T'ang and the Sung dynasties. On General Ytieh /, dated 348, is proba- 
bly the most reliable example of Wang Hsi-chih's writing in this script type. 3 
These small, squarish, regularly aligned characters written in carefully articula- 
ted brushwork profoundly influenced T'ang and Sung calligraphers. 

By the end of the eighth century, both large and small standard-script calligra- 
phy had been transformed by such masters as Ou-yang Hsiin (557-641), Yii 
Shih-nan (558-638), Ch'u Sui-liang (596-658), and Yen Chen-ch'ing. Mature 
standard script of the T'ang is marked by perfectly proportioned characters of 
uniform size, arranged in a gridwork and written with complex strokes which 
require the calligrapher's brush to execute motions that have been given the 
names "lifting" (t'i), "pressing" (an), "turning" (chuan), "folding" (che), and 
"kicking" (t'i). 

It was the style of the T'ang, transmitted with relatively little change through 
rubbings and samples of handwritten calligraphies, that dominated standard- 
script writing in the eleventh century, and it is against this background that Li's 
calligraphy in the Classic of Filial Piety must be seen. Compared with T'ang 
standard script, Li's calligraphy simplifies complex brush motions, introduces 
squat and imbalanced character structures, and breaks away from static, gridlike 
compositions in favor of a more dynamic arrangement of small and large charac- 
ters. As we shall see, behind these innovations lay Li's extensive knowledge of 
Han-dynasty (206 b.c.-a.d. 220) and Northern Dynasties (386-581) stelae in- 
scriptions, ink writings on paper from the Western Tsin (265-317) dynasty, and 
works attributed to Chung Yu available in the late Northern Sung dynasty. 
For most of the characters in the Classic of Filial Piety, Li eschews the complex 
movements of the brush seen in T'ang standard script in favor of simpler, more 
direct brushwork. This is immediately apparent when a character in the Classic of 
Filial Piety is compared with the same character in the calligraphy of Yen Chen- 
ch'ing. In Yen's standard script, which was the most widely imitated of all T'ang 
styles, the beginning of the horizontal stroke is done in the "concealed brush 
tip" (ts'ang-feng) technique. After placing the tip of his brush on the writing 
surface, the calligrapher moves the tip backward and then around, employing 
the motions of "crouching," "lifting," and "turning"; the point at which the 
brush first touches down is thus "concealed" before a continuous left-to-right 
motion completes the stroke (fig. 11a). When Li writes the same stroke, he uses 
the "exposed tip" (ch'u-feng) technique: the point at which his brush touched the 
silk is clearly visible in the tapered beginning of the stroke, produced with a 
simple pressing motion (fig. 11b). The endings of these horizontal strokes reveal 
a similar process of simplification in Li's calligraphy. In the T'ang example, the 
horizontal is completed with a motion called "returned tip" (hui-feng): in a se- 



f g 

quence of motions that reverses those of the "concealed tip" technique that 
began the stroke. Yen Chen-ch'ing moves his brush back to the left to form a 
well-defined knob. Li Kung-lin completes the same stroke by gradually lifting 
his brush as he completes the leftward motion. A similar process of simplifica- 
tion can be seen in the way the two calligraphers complete the hook strokes. The 
complex inner movements of the brush in Yen's calligraphy are replaced by a 
simple leftward "kick" in Li's writing. 

In spite of this tendency to make his standard-script brushwork simpler than that 
of his T'ang predecessors, Li is never dull or repetitious. He wields the brush 
nimbly and with constant changes of speed, pressure, and direction to create 
fascinating graphic designs. This can be illustrated if we examine the horizontal 
strokes in the Classic of Filial Piety. These strokes, often exaggerated in length and 
greatly varied in shape, are the dominant visual motif in Li's calligraphy. 

Li begins most of the horizontals with the "exposed tip" technique and then 
pulls the brush rightward in a simple movement, occasionally increasing pres- 
sure and thus widening the ending of the stroke (fig. 12a). When the pulling 
movement is done with the very tip of the brush, the stroke becomes thin as a 
thread (fig. 12b). Li frequently writes these thin horizontal strokes with a trem- 
bling motion that resembles the thin, trembling horizontal strokes in Chung 
Yu's Memorial Celebrating a Victory. This third-century work is echoed also in Li's 
horizontal strokes begun with a rapid pressing and lifting motion that forms a 
triangular shape (fig. 12c). Although Li begins some horizontals with a "con- 
cealed tip," this is not the complex T'ang technique that involves "crouching," 
"lifting," and "turning" movements but rather an abrupt application of pressure 
that produces a blunt shape totally unlike that found in T'ang standard script 
(fig. i2d). 

The endings of most horizontal strokes in Li's calligraphy are executed in the 
"exposed tip" technique (fig. i2e). However, there is great variety in the way the 
brush leaves the silk. It may rise or fall or maintain the horizontal motion with- 
out any change. When the brush is pressed down slightly before being lifted, a 



flared, clerical-script form is produced (fig. i2f). Often the endings are written 
with an abrupt motion that can create either round or square shapes with no 
trace of the brush tip left on the silk (fig. i2g). In some characters, horizontal 
strokes end with an extremely quick motion that produces a stark, sharp-edged 
shape (fig. i2h), also reminiscent of Han-dynasty clerical script. 

The type of analysis applied above to the horizontal strokes in Li's Classic of Filial 
Piety could be applied to many different types of strokes in the text and would 
reveal the artist's determination to avoid monotonous repetition of forms that 
might have resulted from his radical simplification of T'ang brushwork. Li's 
inventiveness is especially clear when we examine how he varies his brushwork 
in writing repeated characters. The most frequently used character in the Classic 
of Filial Piety is chih, a function word that appears over seventy times. This 
character consists of four strokes: a dot (tien), a rightward ascending diagonal 
(t'iao), a leftward descending diagonal (p'ieh), and a rightward descending diag- 
onal (na) that ends in a flared, wedge-shaped silhouette. No two versions of this 
character are quite alike. Li's writing of the final downward diagonal is espe- 
cially varied; subtle changes in the way the stroke is begun, the speed at which it 
is written, and the timing of the lifting and pressing motions make each stroke 
different in length, thickness, and shape. And although for the character to 
remain legible the basic positions of the strokes cannot be changed, Li varies the 
angles at which the strokes are written as well as the spaces between them so 
that the same character appears in many different guises. Other characters, such 
as pu ("not"), which appears fifty-four times, and yeh (a function word), which 
appears thirty-five times, also show Li avoiding repetition in his manner of 
writing horizontal strokes and hook strokes in identical characters. There are 
well-known precedents in the history of earlier calligraphy for Li's approach to 
writing repeated characters. The most famous is the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion, 
by Wang Hsi-chih. In this work, the most famous piece of calligraphy in history, 
there are twenty appearances of the character chih: no two are alike. 4 Li surely 
knew this revered work, which had been carefully studied for centuries. 5 But 
there is an important difference between Wang Hsi-chih's approach to repeated 
characters and Li's. Wang Hsi-chih wrote the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion in 
semicursive script, a script type that normally allows for considerable variation 
in the way repeated characters are written; Li's Classic of Filial Piety is written in 
small standard script, a script type that traditionally demanded strict regularity. 
By bringing to his calligraphy in small standard script the spirit of free expres- 
sion and inventiveness normally restricted to more cursive styles, Li Kung-lin 
achieved a startlingly innovative form of writing. 

Another source of visual interest in Li's calligraphy lies in his preference for 
sharp contrasts of thick and thin strokes. As standard script developed over the 
centuries from the time of Wang Hsi-chih to the T'ang, strokes became increas- 
ingly even in thickness. In the calligraphy of Yen Chen-ch'ing, especially works 
from late in his life, the thickness of the strokes is highly uniform. This tendency 



continued into the Northern Sung with little change. In the Classic of Filial Piety, 
however, sharp contrasts between thick and thin strokes are one of the most 
striking features. Common characters, such as jen ("man"; fig. 13a), min ("peo- 
ple"), and pu ("not"), all display this contrast between dark, heavy strokes writ- 
ten with considerable pressure on the brush tip and light, delicately brushed 
strokes in which the brush seems barely to graze the silk. In some characters Li 
stresses the radicals, making these signifiers of meaning heavier and more asser- 
tive than other elements in the characters (fig. 13b). He also uses sharp contrasts 
of thick and thin among groups of two or more characters. Whether it is within 
individual characters or between adjacent characters, the play of heavy and 
light, thick and thin creates a strong visual rhythm that enlivens Li's calligraphy 
throughout the scroll. 

Just as Li's brushwork turns away from the complexity of T'ang models, often 
evoking styles of the remote past, so does the structure of his characters depart 
from the rectangular and balanced forms of T'ang standard script. In general, 
characters in the Classic of Filial Piety are squat and precariously balanced, re- 
calling Eastern Han stelae inscriptions in clerical script and the small standard 
script of Chung Yu. By the T'ang period, this archaic squatness— the tendency of 
characters to expand horizontally rather than vertically— had given way to a 
taste for tall, rectangular, and perfectly balanced structures. Li Kung-lin evokes 
archaic structural principles in several ways. Often he elongates horizontal 
strokes and shortens vertical strokes to make characters low and compact (fig. 
13c). In some characters he stretches the diagonals out of proportion (fig. 13d), 
and often he makes radicals that are oddly compressed (fig. i3e). 

The imbalanced compositional structures Li favors, which differ so greatly from 
those in T'ang calligraphy, are created in several ways. In many characters radi- 
cals are enlarged (fig. i3f), and in characters composed of more than one radical 
either the left and right elements are misaligned (fig. i3g) or the upper and lower 
elements are not on the same vertical axis (fig. i3h). Unusually elongated or 
shortened strokes also create an effect of imbalance. 



Figure 14. The characters shang, 
ti, pu, and su 

a. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 

b. Yen Chen-ch'ing (709-785), 
rubbing of the Stele for the Yen 
Family Shrine, dated 770 

Li Kung-lin's innovative departures from the norms of small-standard-script 
brushwork and character structure are complemented by his equally fresh ap- 
proach to the size and spatial arrangement of the characters. In T'ang standard 
script, the sizes of characters are equal regardless of the number of strokes they 
contain, and each character fills an imaginary square. Rejecting this convention, 
Li frequently varies the sizes of his characters according to the number of 
strokes they contain. For example, shang ("above"), ti ("emperor"), pu ("not"), 
and su ("serious") differ greatly in size because of the different numbers of 
strokes they contain. Compare Li's writing of these characters (fig. 14a) with Yen 
Chen-ch'ing's, in which all the characters are the same size (fig. 14b). However, 
the number of strokes in a given character does not always account for the size in 
which Li Kung-lin chooses to write it. Tien ("heaven") and hsia ("below"), in the 
thirty-fifth line, both contain only a few strokes, yet their sizes are very dif- 
ferent. Here, Li Kung-lin's aesthetic judgment and spontaneity played a decisive 
role. Because the characters vary greatly in size, and because their imbalanced 
structures create an irregular pattern of rectangular, triangular, rhomboidal, 
and even trapezoidal forms, they cannot be arranged in a rigid gridwork like 
characters in T'ang standard script. This irregular spacing suggests that, as in 
his approach to repeated characters, Li has borrowed certain features from cur- 
sive and semicursive script, in which characters are more freely arranged, to 
transform his small standard script into a dynamic, expressive mode of writing. 

Li Kung-lin's Study of the Past and the Sources of His Style 

As the preceding analysis of Li Kung-lin's Classic of Filial Piety reveals, his style 
in small standard script turns away from the conventions of the T'ang dynasty, 
still dominant during the Northern Sung, in favor of simpler forms that evoke 
traditions of pre-T'ang calligraphy. Li's sources for this revival and his synthesis 



of past styles can be traced to stelae inscriptions of the Han and Northern Wei, 
writings on paper from the Western Tsin, and, most important, from the Chung 
Yu tradition. 

The second half of the eleventh century witnessed a burst of interest in early 
calligraphy carved on stelae, or pei.^ Scholars and calligraphers collected rub- 
bings of these inscriptions and studied them for their artistic as well as for their 
historical and literary value, and rubbings of ancient stelae were popular gifts 
in literati circles. The renowned poet and calligrapher Su Shih (1037-1101) once 
gave fifteen such rubbings to his younger brother Su Ch'e (1039-1112). 7 Schol- 
ars also gathered the actual stelae in private collections. Sun Chiieh (1028- 
1090), an uncle of the famous calligrapher Huang T'ing-chien (1045-1105), col- 
lected many ancient stelae and displayed them in his studio, which he called 
the Pavilion of Marvelous Ink. Tseng Kung (1019-1083), Su Shih, Su Ch'e, and 
other cultural luminaries wrote essays and poems to commemorate Sun's 
collection. 8 

Records of stelae, including their inscriptions and locations, appear in the essays 
and poems of Northern Sung writers, in miscellaneous notes, and, most impor- 
tant, in books on epigraphy, such as the Record of Ancient Calligraphy, by Ou-yang 
Hsiu (1007-1072); Records of Calligraphy on Bronze and Stone, by Tseng Kung; and 
Colophons to Calligraphy Collected by Kuang-ch'uan, by Tung Yu (active early 12th 
century). 9 Among these works, Ou-yang Hsiu's was the most valuable record of 
ancient calligraphy available to Northern Sung scholars. Ou-yang lists seventy- 
eight stelae inscriptions from the Han and thirteen from the Northern Dynas- 
ties. Several of these stelae are still extant: Mount Hua Temple Stele (dated 165), 
Stele for I-ying (dated 153), Ritual Vessels Stele (dated 156), Stele for Shih Ch'en 
(dated 169) — all of the Eastern Han period — and the Inscription at Stone Gate 
(dated 509), from the Northern Wei. Although not recorded in texts on epigra- 
phy, certain other stelae inscriptions also were well known in the Northern 
Sung. For example, an inscription dated 1096 on the back of the Stele for Chia Ssu- 
po (dated 519), from the Northern Wei, states that rubbings taken from this stele 
were circulated among scholars in the early eleventh century and that the stele 
itself was found hidden in a stable in the late eleventh century. 
These records show that calligraphers of the Northern Sung had ample oppor- 
tunity to study rubbings of Han and Northern Wei stelae or, if they were diligent 
enough to seek them out, to see extant stelae. Li Kung-lin took full advantage of 
these materials, and his knowledge of stelae inscriptions is revealed in his cal- 
ligraphy for the Classic of Filial Piety. This can be demonstrated by comparing 
characters from Li's work with those from several Han and Northern Dynasties 
stelae. The Han examples are Ode to Shih-men (dated 148), Stele for I-ying, Mount 
Hua Temple Stele, Stele for Shih Ch'en, Ode to Hsi-hsia (dated 171), Stele for Ts'ao 
Ch'Uan (dated 185), and Stele for Chang Ch'ien (dated 186). These are excellent 
examples of Eastern Han clerical script, and four of them were recorded by Ou- 
yang Hsiu and Tseng Kung." The Northern Dynasties stelae — examples of tsao- 



Figure 15. Horizontal brush- 
strokes with flared endings using 
"exposed tip" technique 

a. Rubbing of the Stele for l-ying, 
dated 153 

b. Li Kung-Hn, Classic of Filial 

Figure 16. Square brushwork 

(fang pi) 

a. Rubbing of the stele Ode on 
the Western Gorges, dated 171 

b. Inscription of Buddhist Statues 
Dedicated by Niu Ch'Ueh, 
dated 495 

c. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 

hsiang chi, or inscriptions on Buddhist statues— include: Inscriptions on Buddhist 
Statues Dedicated by Niu Ch'Ueh (dated 495), Inscriptions on Buddhist Statues Dedi- 
cated by Shih-p'ing Kung (dated 498), Inscriptions on Buddhist Statues Dedicated by- 
Sun Ch'iu-sheng (dated 502), and Inscriptions on Buddhist Statues Dedicated by Wei 
Ling-ts'ang (ca. 500-503). 

The flared endings of horizontal strokes are a prominent feature of mature Han 
clerical script. Completed with a pressing motion just before the brush is lifted, 
these endings are written in the "exposed tip" technique (fig. 15a). This kind of 
ending disappeared in standard script and was replaced by endings written 
with the more complicated "returned tip" discussed earlier. But it is precisely 
this type of complexity in T'ang brushwork that Li Kung-lin, inspired by Han 
and Northern Dynasties examples, rejects in his Classic of Filial Piety (fig. 15b). In 
adopting the flared horizontal endings from clerical script for a work in small 
standard script, Li evokes a style of calligraphy that was current nearly a thou- 
sand years before his time. But he was not content with merely imitating this 
motif from ancient calligraphy; indeed, he transforms it into a far more varied 


Figure 17. Corner strokes 

a. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 

h. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 

c. Stele for I-ying, dated 153 

d. Stele for Ts'ao Ch'Uan, dated 185 




Figure 18. Endings of leftward 
descending diagonal brushstrokes 

a. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 
Piety; Stele for I-ying, dated 153 

b. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 
Piety; Stele for Chang Ch'ien, 
dated 186 

c. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 
Piety; Stele for Ts'ao Ch'Uan, 
dated 185 

d. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 
Piety; Stele for 1-ying, dated 153 

and dynamic range of forms than can be found in actual Han writings, thus 
creating a personal style unlike that of any other Northern Sung calligrapher. 

The short horizontal strokes in Han stelae occasionally end in sharply defined 
squarish shapes (fig. 16a). These developed into the "square brush work" {fang 
pi) that produces the characteristic chiseled effect in Northern Dynasties stelae 
inscriptions of the fifth and sixth centuries (fig. 16b). As a comparison of similar 
characters shows, Li integrated this square brushwork into his own style, stress- 
ing in his ink-written characters forms that were closely associated with cal- 
ligraphy carved in stone (fig. 16c). The corner strokes in Li's Classic of Filial Piety 
also derive from stelae inscriptions. They are done either in smooth, rounded 
turns (fig. 17a) or in sharp, angular turns (fig. 17b). These strokes, far more 
simplified than those of T'ang standard script, can be associated with no other 
style of calligraphy except that found on Han stelae (figs. 17c, i7d). 

Li's adaptations from Han stelae inscriptions can also be seen in his leftward 
descending diagonals. For example, the hooked endings (fig. 18a), arc-shaped 
endings (fig. 18b), and squared endings (fig. 18c) all resemble the Han forms 
with which they are paired in the illustrations. So do the squared endings and 
the arc-shaped endings (fig. i8d) of the hook strokes. Li does not, however, 
merely copy these archaic styles of writing. His brushwork is far more fluent and 
natural than that reflected in the carved stelae inscriptions, which tends to be 
slow and stylized. 

Many of the dots in Li's calligraphy were written with the "square brush" tech- 
nique, which creates sharply defined triangular shapes (fig. 19a). Such dots first 
appear in Chinese calligraphy in Han stelae (fig. 19b), though in these works the 
dots were not yet standardized and their shapes reveal traces of the soft, resilient 
brush hairs. In the calligraphy of the Northern Dynasties, the dots are sharper 
and more regular, and they are a distinctive feature of stelae inscriptions from 
this period (fig. 19c). Although the triangular dots in the Classic of Filial Piety are 

Figure 19. Triangular dots 

a. Min, from the Classic of Filial 

b. T'ou, from the Stele for l-ying, 
dated 153 

c. Hsien, from Inscriptions on 
Buddhist Statues Dedicated by 
Shih-p'ing Kung, dated 498 



Figure 20. Third-century letters 
and sutras 

a. Anonymous, fragment of a 
letter, ca. 3rd century. Ink on 
paper. Excavated at Loulan, 
Kansu Province. Private 
collection, Japan 

b. Anonymous, History of the Three 
Kingdoms, ca. late 3rd century. 
HandscroU, ink on paper. 
Museum of Calligraphy, Tokyo 


much closer to these fifth- and sixth-century works, some of them still exhibit 
the soft, bulging edges seen in the Han-dynasty examples. 

During the late Northern Sung, calligraphers studied not only ancient inscrip- 
tions carved on stone but also early inscriptions executed on paper. The striking 
contrasts between thick and thin strokes in the Classic of Filial Piety noted earlier 
can be related to the small-standard-script calligraphy seen in letters, sutras, and 
other texts written on paper from the third century that attracted the attention 
of Li's contemporaries. Huang T'ing-chien, for example, once commented that 
an ancient transcription of a Buddhist sutra was "pure and forceful, square and 
weighty," and far surpassed the calligraphy of Hsiao Tzu-yiin (487-549), a cal- 
ligrapher who practiced the Chung Yu style. ^3 Huang's description of this cal- 
ligraphy could apply also to third-century writings on paper that were 
discovered in the early twentieth century, m Huang's remarks comparing this 
sutra with writing by a follower of Chung Yu also reveal that as early as the 
eleventh century connoisseurs recognized a relationship between the Chung Yu 
tradition and the style of calligraphy used for sutras. 

The most distinctive stylistic feature of third-century letters and sutras (figs. 
2oa, b) is the alternation of heavy and light with thick and thin strokes. The 
heaviest strokes are the rightward descending diagonals. These repeated forms 
and the contrasts between thick and thin strokes within individual characters 



"§ ^ M 

53 ^ ^1. 

Figure 21. Chung Yu (151-230), 
rubbing of the Memorial on an 
Announcement to Sun Ch'iian, 
ca. 221 

Figure 22. Chung Yu (151-230), 
rubbing of the Memorial Celebrating 
a Victory, ca. 219 
21 22 

give these writings a strongly accented visual rhythm. In the Classic of Filial 
Piety, Li achieves a very similar effect. But instead of repeatedly accenting a 
single type of stroke, he stresses different strokes at will, and strong contrasts of 
thickness appear not only between strokes but also between radicals, entire 
characters, and even groups of characters. Once again, we see Li drawing in- 
spiration from an ancient style to achieve an innovative transformation of small 
standard script. 

Of all the influences that can be identified in Li Kung-lin's calligraphy, the most 
important are the rubbings attributed to Chung Yu. The style of this third- 
century calligrapher was represented in the Northern Sung by rubbings col- 
lected in the Calligraphic Works in the Ch'un-hua Palace. Among the six works in 
the anthology, 15 the Memorial on an Announcement to Sun Ch'Uan (fig. 21) was 
thought to have most successfully preserved the essence of Chung Yu's style, 
even though this work was recognized as a copy by Wang Hsi-chih. Although its 
authenticity was doubted by a few connoisseurs. Memorial Celebrating a Victory 
(fig. 22) also was generally accepted as a representative work.^^ These two exam- 
ples, therefore, are our primary evidence for how Chung Yu's style was per- 
ceived in the Northern Sung. Returning to the Classic of Filial Piety, we find that 
most of the unusual brushwork and structural principles of Li's calligraphy are 
related to these two works. 



Figure 23. Comparison of 
brushwork in Chung Yu (151-230), 
Memorial Celebrating a Victory, 
ca. 219, and Li Kung-lin, Classic 
of Filial Piety 

a. Triangular beginnings 

b. Hooked beginnings and 

c. Irregular silhouettes 


Figure 24. Comparison of 
brushwork in Chung Yu (151-230), 
Memorial on an Announcement to 
Sun Ch'iian, ca. 221; Chung Yu, 
Memorial Celebrating a Victory, 
ca. 219; and Li Kung-lin, Classic 
of Filial Piety 

a. Elongated strokes and 
shortened strokes 

b. Exaggerated diagonals 

c. Compressed radicals 

Generally speaking, the Memorial Celebrating a Victory exerted more influence on 
Li Kung-lin's brushwork, and the Memorial on an Announcement to Sun Ch'iian 
more influence on the structure of his characters. Similarities between Li's 
brushwork and the unusual brushwork in the Memorial Celebrating a Victory are 
not difficult to see. These include the "exposed tip" technique that produces 
triangular beginnings of horizontal strokes (fig. 23a), the "turning" and 
"kicking" movements that form the hooked beginnings of horizontals and the 
hooked endings of diagonals (fig. 23b), and the uneven movements of the brush 
that produce irregular silhouettes in both horizontal and diagonal strokes 

Chung Yu 


Figure 25. Comparison of 
brushwork in Chung Yu (151-230), 
Memorial on an Announcement to 
Sun Ch'uan, ca. 221, and in Li 
Kung-Iin, Classic of Filial Piety 

a. Exaggerated radicals 

b. Misaligned radicals 

c. Misaligned elements 

(fig. 23c). Some features of the Memorial Celebrating a Victory are amplified or exag- 
gerated in Li's writing, such as horizontal strokes that are long and tremulous. 

The Memorial on an Announcement to Sun Ch'uan and the Memorial Celebrating a 
Victory also inspired the basic structure of Li's characters, and all three works 
display the squat, imbalanced structures that are the hallmark of the Chung Yu 
tradition. In both Li's and Chung Yu's writing, elongated horizontal strokes, 
shortened vertical strokes (fig. 24a), exaggerated diagonals (fig. 24b), and com- 
pressed radicals (fig. 24c) make characters seem squat and dumpy. A sense of 
imbalance is achieved by exaggerated radicals (fig. 25a), misaligned radicals (fig. 
25b), and the placing of upper and lower elements of characters on different 
vertical axes (fig. 25c). 

Synthesizing and transforming stylistic features of several different calligraphic 
traditions, Li Kung-lin invented a style of calligraphy unique in the history of 
small standard script. His simplified brushwork, based on a rejection of T'ang 
conventions, was a landmark in the history of the Chung Yu tradition. ^7 No 
other calligrapher's work in this script type displays such an innovative ap- 
proach to the past. The originality of Li's calligraphy equals the originality of his 
painting. Painting in the pai-miao, or plain-ink, drawing style which dispensed 
with colors and emphasized brushwork, Li opened a new chapter in the history 
of Chinese painting. To create this new style, Li returned to the past for inspira- 
tion. He studied the classical masters extensively and based his own style on a 
synthesis of their achievements. Richard Barnhart offers perhaps the most suc- 
cinct evaluation of his art: "[Li Kung-lin] conveyed his forms in an artistic 
vocabulary drawn from the greatest masters of the past, quoting and paraphras- 
ing their styles, techniques, and motifs so subtly that an extended composition 
by Li Kung-lin could be annotated as fully as the poetry of Huang T'ing- 
chien."i8 Like his paintings, the calligraphy of the Classic of Filial Piety displays a 
subtle integration of features drawn from various ancient styles and can be 
appreciated best with the aid of such annotations as those offered above. 



Li Kung-lin and His Friends: Other Innovations in 
Northern Sung Small Standard Script 

Most calligraphers of the eleventh century followed late-T'ang or early-Sung 
models of small standard script with little alteration. The calligraphy of Ts'ai 
Hsiang (1012-1067) is the finest representative of this conservative tradition, 
beautifully displayed in his Memorial of Thanks for the Bestowal of the Emperor's 
Personal Calligraphy (fig. 26). A few calligraphers, however, developed fresh, 
unconventional styles. In addition to Li Kung-lin himself, several of Li's close 

Figure 26. Ts'ai Hsiang (1012- 
1067), detail from the Memorial 
of Thanks for the Bestowal of the 
Emperor's Personal Calligraphy, 
dated 1052. Handscroll, ink on 
paper. Museum of Calligraphy, 

Figure 27. Su Shih (1037-1101), 
detail from the Elegiac Address 
to Huang Chi-tao, dated 1087. 
Handscroll, ink on paper. 
Shanghai Museum 



friends were among the most inventive and original Northern Sung calligra- 
phers: Su Shih, Huang T'ing-chien, and Mi Fu (1051-1107). Together with Ts'ai 
Hsiang, these men were hailed as the Four Northern Sung Masters. In this 
section, we shall compare works by Su, Huang, and Mi with Ts'ai Hsiang's and 
will examine the continuities between the calligraphy of Li Kung-lin and that of his 
three friends. The works by Li's friends are all from their later years and represent 
the culmination of their experience with the art of calligraphy: the Elegiac Address to 
Huang Chi-tao (fig. 27), by Su Shih; Epitaph for Shih Fu (fig. 28), by Huang T'ing- 
chien; and Epitaph for the Honorable Ch'ung Kuo-kung (fig. 29), by Mi Fu.^9 






Figure 28. Huang T'ing-chien 
(1045-1105), detail from the 
Epitaph for Shih Fu, dated 1099. 
Handscroll, ink on paper. Tokyo 
National Museum 

Figure 29. Mi Fu (1052-1107), 
detail from the Epitaph for the 
Honorable Ch'ung Kuo-kung, dated 
no/. Handscroll, ink on paper. 
Palace Museum, Beijing 



a. Ts'ai Hsiang 

b. Su Shih 

d. Mi Fu 

c. Huang T'ing-chien ij^^i^ 

e. Li Kung-lin 

Figure 30. Comparison of 
brushwork in 

a. Ts'ai Hsiang, Memorial of 
Thanks for the Bestowal of the 
Emperor's Personal Calligraphy 

b. Su Shih, Elegiac Address to 
Huang Chi-tao 

c. Huang T'ing-chien, Epitaph to 
Shih Fu 

d. Mi Fu, Epitaph for the Honorable 
Ch'ung Kuo-kung 

e. Li Kung-lin, Classic of Filial 

When we compare the brushwork of Ts'ai Hsiang with that of Su, Huang, and 
Mi, the differences are easily recognized. Ts'ai's brushwork is far more complex. 
Taking hook strokes as an example, we see that in Ts'ai's writing vertical hooks 
(fig. 30a, cols. 1, 2), diagonal hooks, and horizontal hooks (fig. 30a, col. 3) all 
employ the motions of "pressing," "crouching," "returning," and "kicking" 
that are typical of late-T'ang and early-Sung standard script. In the calligraphy 
of Su, Huang, and Mi, the same types of strokes are written with much simpler 
movements of the brush. When completing a vertical hook, these calligraphers 
stop the motion of the brush quite suddenly, with a slight "kick" at the end (fig. 
30, col. 1) or with a smooth leftward sweep that eliminates the motions Ts'ai 
Hsiang uses (fig. 30, col. 2). Comparable simplifications can be seen in the 
diagonal hooks (fig. 30, col. 3) and the horizontal hooks, which end with a short 
upward "kick" (fig. 30, col. 4). In the Classic of Filial Piety, we find an array of 
simplified hook strokes (fig. 3oe) quite similar to those written by Li Kung-lin's 
three friends. 

Other types of strokes by Su, Huang, and Mi, as well as those by Li Kung-lin, 
display the same tendency toward simplification. These include the "exposed 



VijiipS;.,; , 

a. Su Shih 

b. Huang T'ing-chien 

c. Mi Fu 

d. Li Kung-lin 

tip" beginnings of horizontals (fig. 31, col. 1), the abrupt endings of verticals 
(fig. 31, col. 2), and the "square brush" beginnings of diagonal strokes (fig. 31, 
col. 3). All of these contrast to the more conservative calligraphy of Ts'ai Hsiang. 

Like Li Kung-lin, his three friends display a strong preference for imbalanced 
character structure. Clearly, the well-formed equilibrium of T'ang standard 
script held little interest for these calligraphers, who created dynamic tensions 
in characters through the exaggeration of strokes and the unconventional ar- 
rangement of radicals. Although the basic shapes of their characters vary accord- 
ing to differences in their artistic temperaments and preferences — Su Shih's 
characters are squat; Huang T'ing-chien's and Mi Fu's are rectangular— the three 
writers employ similar structural principles. Frequently, they exaggerate a sin- 
gle stroke, such as the horizontal, diagonal, or hook, to make characters appear 
tilted (fig. 32, col. 1). Sometimes they exaggerate two diagonals in a character so 
that its structure becomes ill-proportioned (fig. 32, col. 2). They also misalign 
radicals horizontally or place them on different vertical axes (fig. 32, col. 3). As 
should now be clear, all these structural devices were used by Li Kung-lin in the 
Classic of Filial Piety to imbue his writing with a strong, dynamic momentum. 

Figure 31. Comparison of 
simplified brushwork in 

a. Su Shih 

b. Huang T'ing-chien 

c. Mi Fu 

d. Li Kung-Un 

(See fig. 30 for sources.) 



a. Su Shih 

b. Huang T'ing-chien 

c. Mi Fu 

d. Li Kung-lin 

Figure 32. Comparison of 
imbalanced character 
structure in 

a. Su Shih 

b. Huang T'ing-chien 

c. Mi Fu 

d. Li Kung-lin 

(See fig. 30 for sources.) 

The simplified brushwork and imbalanced structures in the small-standard- 
script calligraphy of Su Shih, Huang T'ing-chien, Mi Fu, and Li Kung-lin mark a 
fundamental departure from T'ang and early-Sung models. The impression con- 
veyed by the calligraphy of Su, Huang, and Mi, as well as by Li Kung-lin in the 
Classic of Filial Piety, is one of great naturalness. Abandoning the labored perfec- 
tion of T'ang models, these late Northern Sung calligraphers allowed characters 
to flow from the mind to the hand and onto the writing surface with confidence 
and ease. Their major concern was to express the inner self at the moment of 
writing; brush techniques and character structures were simply vehicles of ex- 
pression. As long as inner feeling was conveyed, there was no concern about 
what T'ang calligraphers might have regarded as technical imperfections. 

Ch'un-hua ko t'ieh is a ten-volume anthology compiled by Wang Chu (d. 992), a renowned 
connoisseur. Although Wang was criticized for his mistakes in choosing the specimens, the 
anthology was widely popular in the Sung, as is clear from the fact that over thirty recarved 
editions were issued. There are many studies of this anthology. The earliest is Tseng Ch'un 
(active mid-i3th century), Shih-k'o p'u hsu (1242; Ts'iing-shu chi-ch'eng ch'u-pien). The most 
extensive modern studies are Jung Keng, Ts'ung-t'ieh mu (Hong Kong, 1980); and Sesson Uno, 
Hop (Tokyo, 1970). Brief introductions to the anthology appear in Shen C. Y. Fu, "Huang T'ing- 
chien's Calligraphy and His Scroll for Chang Ta-t'ung: A Masterpiece Written in Exile" (Ph.D. 
diss., Princeton University, 1976), pp. 199-200; and Lothar Ledderose, Mi Fu and the Classical 
Tradition of Chinese Calligraphy (Princeton, 1979), pp. 10-12. 

Memorial on an Announcement to Sun Ch'ilan was presented by Chung Yu to Ts'ao P'i (187-226), 
Emperor Wei Wen-ti, to ensure loyalty to Sun Ch'uan (182-252), the King of Wu, who requested 



that he be able to serve the Wei regime. Memorial Celebrating a Victory was presented by Chung Yu 
to Ts'ao Ts'ao (155-200), counselor-in-chief during Emperor Han Hsien-ti's reign (189-220), to 
congratulate him on a victory over his enemy Kuan Yii (d. 219). In the Northern Sung dynasty 
there were two versions of Memorial Celebrating a Victory known to connoisseurs. 

3. On General YUeh I was composed by Hsia-hou Hsiian (b. 209) to record the achievements of 
General Yiieh I (active late 3rd century B.C.). In a.d. 348 Wang Hsi-chih transcribed the text, 
which became the most representative example of Wang's small standard script. 

4. This had been recognized by the early T'ang period. Ho Yen-chih (active early 8th century) 
recorded the history of the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion in his Lan t'ing chi of 714. 

5. The Lan t'ing chi is mentioned by Sang Shih-ch'ang (active late 12th century) in Lan t'ing k'ao 
(preface by Kao Wen-hu, dated 1208), which includes a detailed account of Northern Sung 
scholarship on the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion. 

6. The term "stelae" is used here in its broad sense to include calligraphy carved on stone in any 

7. Su Ch'e, Luan-ch'eng chi (Shanghai, 1929), chuan 1, p. 18. 

8. See Tseng Kung, Yiian-feng lei-kao, in Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an chu-pien, chiian 7, p. 61; Su Shih, Tung-p'o 
chi (Taipei, 1967), chiian 3, p. 10; and Su Ch'e, Luan-ch'eng chi, chiian 4, p. 11. 

9. Ou-yang Hsiu's Chi-ku lu has a preface dated 1063. This ten-volume work records ancient 
calligraphy seen by the author, Ou-yang Hsiu, including inscriptions on bronzes, stones, and 
recut copies of inscriptions. The dates of the items range from the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1028 
B.C.) to the Northern Sung. This book is included in the Ou-yang Wen-chung kung chiian-chi, in 
Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an ch'u-pien, vols. 46-50. Chin-shih lu, by Tseng Kung, contained five hundred 
chiian and was mentioned in the biography of the author; unfortunately, it is no longer extant, but 
the preface and fourteen items appear in Tseng Kung's collected works, Yiian-feng lei-kao, in Ssu- 
pu ts'ung-k'an chu-pien, chiian 50, pp. 319-22. Tung Yu's Kuang-ch'uan hua pa (Shanghai, 1949) is a 
ten-volume work that contains records of nineteen Eastern Han stelae. 

10. Shodo zenshU (Tokyo, 1930-31), ser. 2, vol. 6, p. 169. 

11. Mount Hua Temple Stele, Stele for I-ying, and Stele for Shih Ch'en were recorded by Ou-yang Hsiu in 
Chi-ku lu, chiian 1, p. 2. Ode to Hsi-hsia was recorded by Tseng Kung in Yiian-feng lei-kao, in Ssu-pu 
ts'ung-k'an chu-pien, chiian 50, p. 320. 

12. See Shodo zenshU, ser. 2, vol. 6, for the illustrations of these examples. 

13. Huang T'ing-chien, Colophons by Huang T'ing-chien, in Sung nien ming-chia hui-pien, chiian 4, p. 36. 

14. At the beginning of the twentieth century, archaeologists conducted successive excavations in 
northwestern China. They discovered numerous wooden and bamboo slips of the Han, Wei, and 
Tsin dynasties, as well as many letters, drafts, and sutras of the Tsin. These discoveries greatly 
expanded our knowledge of second- and third-century calligraphy. See Shodo zenshU, ser. 2, vol. 
2, p. 149; vol. 3, pp. 145-46, 150-51. 

15. These are Memorial on an Announcement to Sun Ch'ilan, Huan shih t'ieh, Pai ch'i t'ieh, Ch'ang huan 
t'ieh, HsUeh han t'ieh, and Ch'ang-feng t'ieh. 

16. Ou-yang Hsiu offered some controversial opinions about Memorial Celebrating a Victory in Chi-ku 
lu. However, at the end of the Northern Sung it had come to be regarded as the most 
representative work by Chung Yu. 

17. Li Kung-lin's style in the Classic of Filial Piety was the source for the Memorial Recommending Chi 
Chih, a spurious work attributed to Chung Yu that first appeared in the early Southern Sung 
period and exerted great influence on the development of the Chung Yu tradition. For the 
relationship between the Classic of Filial Piety and the Memorial Recommending Chi Chih, see Hui- 
liang J. Chu, "The Chung Yu (a.d. 151-230) Tradition: A Pivotal Development in Sung 
Calligraphy" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1990), chap. 3. 

18. Richard M. Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u: Illustrations of the 'Classic of Filial Piety'" 
(Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1967), p. 36. 

19. Elegiac Address to Huang Chi-tao (Shanghai Museum) was written in 1087, when Su Shih was fifty- 
two. Epitaph for Shih Fu (Tokyo National Museum) was written after 1099, when Huang T'ing- 
chien was at least fifty-five. Epitaph for the Honorable Ch'ung Kuo-kung (Palace Museum, Beijing) 
was written in 1107, when Mi Fu was fifty-seven. Memorial of Thanks for the Bestowal of the 
Emperor's Personal Calligraphy (Museum of Calligraphy, Tokyo) was written in 1052, when Ts'ai 
Hsiang was forty-one. 



Richard M. Barnhart 

he text transcribed and illustrated by 
Li Kung-lin, the Hsiao-ching, or Classic of Filial Piety, is one of the classics that 
constitute the orthodox canon of Confucianism (fig. 33). ^ A slight volume com- 
posed of eighteen brief chapters or sections, it takes the form of a dialogue 
between Confucius and his disciple Tseng-tzu on the meaning and application 
of filial piety in the affairs of the individual and of the state. 

Modern scholars date the text to the period between 350 and 200 B.C., long after 
either Confucius or his immediate disciples lived. But by the eleventh century, 
only three views regarding the authorship had been advanced; it was held to 
have been written by Confucius himself, by Tseng-tzu, or by a disciple of Tseng- 
tzu who faithfully transmitted the conversation of the two philosophers. The 
major critical problem confronting scholars of the eleventh century was not, 
therefore, one of date or of authorship, since each of the three views advanced 
held the text to be an authentic record, but of priority between the two versions 
of the text then extant, the so-called modern text, which is now regarded as the 
older, and what was then known as the old text. The differences between them 
are slight, not amounting to much more than a few characters, but the old text 
includes one additional, very brief section and is divided into twenty-two in- 
stead of eighteen chapters. Nonetheless, a number of the greatest scholars of the 
eleventh century, including Ssu-ma Kuang (1019-1086), occupied themselves 
with the problem of priority. Many argued on behalf of the old text, as would 
Chu Hsi (1130-1200) a century later, when a new phase of critical examination 
was opened up. 

The modern, or new, text had the advantage of imperial patronage. In 722, the ^^§"^^ 33- Li Kung-lm, detail 

" 1 r o / trom chapter 15 or the Classic of 

T'ang emperor Hsiian-tsung authorized an imperial edition of the new text, for Filial Piety (pi. 12) 



which he himself wrote the commentary and a preface. A second imperial edi- 
tion, with expanded commentary, was authorized by the Sung emperor Tai- 
tsung in 996 and completed in 1001 under the editorship of Hsing Ping (932- 
1010). It was this version of the text that was followed by Li Kung-lin. 

Hsiao, or "filial piety, " is a concept central to the Confucian ethic. It has been 
called "the root of all virtue, and that from which all moral teaching grows" (see 
below, chapter 1). Some authorities hold that Confucius himself never placed 
such emphasis on filial piety, and certainly the quality of human behavior most 
strongly advocated by Confucius in the Analects is jen, "goodness," or "human 
heartedness." In one passage, however, he clearly indicates that filial piety is the 
very root of jen: "The superior man devotes himself to what is fundamental, 
for when that has been established right courses naturally evolve; and are not 
filial devotion [hsiao] and respect for the elders in the family the very foundation 
of human heartedness [jen]?"^ Filial piety is, with jen, one of the most pervasive 
themes of the Analects, but there is no extended development of the concept until 
the appearance of the Classic of Filial Piety. By the earlier Han dynasty (206 b.c- 
A.D. 220), filial piety had emerged as a central concept of moral behavior in the 
structure of both the family and the state. The posthumous titles of all the Han 
emperors, for example, have as a prefix the word hsiao, testifying to the official 
regard in which the concept was held. Henceforward, the authorized histories of 
each dynasty would include honored examples of filial sons, brothers, and offi- 
cials, and popular stories of particularly admirable filial behavior would grow 
steadily in number. 

The ideal, even in much later periods, was not a hollow one. During the Sung 
dynasty, several of Li Kung-lin's friends were distinguished for their exemplary 
filial behavior. Huang T'ing-chien (1045-1105), the great poet and calligrapher, 
for example, became one of the twenty-four paragons through his selfless devo- 
tion to his mother. Another friend, Li Chih, or Li Fang-shu, was more extraordi- 
nary still. Despite a natural genius for writing, he postponed his own career 
until three generations of his ancestors — over thirty relatives in all— had been 
properly buried and mourned. Because he had been orphaned as a youth and 
was without financial resources of any kind, this decision meant years of hard- 
ship and personal sacrifice. When Li left to begin the travels that his self- 
appointed obligation made necessary, the distinguished poet Su Shih was 
moved to take off his own clothing and give it to him. 

The ideal of filial piety has motivated men in every age and at every level of 
society. The text itself has been read and memorized by students since the Han 
dynasty, and its precepts have been deeply embedded in their minds. Another 
mark of the veneration in which it is held is the role it has played in art. 

The fourteenth-century scholar Sung Lien (1310-1381) wrote that the Classic of 
Filial Piety was the most frequently illustrated of all the Confucian classics. 3 
Surviving examples and literary records appear to support his observation. The 



earliest illustrations may have been done by the fourth-century artist Hsieh 
Chih. Another early set was completed during the Liang dynasty (502-556). 4 
While some partial trace of these works may have endured into the T'ang dy- 
nasty, it does not seem that they survived into the Sung in any form at all. At any 
rate, no early version of the subject is mentioned in any Sung record. The earliest 
extant version of the Hsiao-ching is Li Kung-lin's, which is the first of the group of 
nine complete or partial sets of illustrations that are known today. 

This group is of interest for a number of reasons. First, ranging in time from the 
eleventh to the eighteenth century, it offers a substantial survey of eight cen- 
turies of narrative illustration in China and represents a model of the evolution 
of classical illustration in later imperial China. Below are listed and briefly de- 
scribed each of the nine: 

1. The present scroll by Li Kung-lin; ink on silk, originally with a few touches 
of color. Fifteen of the original chapter illustrations remain, and parts or all 
of each section of text except the first chapter. The Metropolitan Museum 
of Art, New York. 5 

2. An exact copy of the Metropolitan Museum scroll; ink on paper, made 
before the original suffered its present damage, that is, before the seven- 
teenth century. All eighteen illustrations and texts are complete, and a copy 
of Li Kung-lin's original colophon is attached. Portions of this copy are 
illustrated below as figures 37, 40, and 44. National Palace Museum, 
Taipei. 6 

3. A partial copy (five paintings, six texts in seal script) based upon the Metro- 
politan Museum scroll; ink on silk. This fragmentary set appears to be of 
very high quality and may have been copied directly from the original. The 
painting is dated by Shanghai Museum authorities to the Yiian period 
(1279-1368). One section is reproduced here as figure 34. The Shanghai 
Museum. 7 

4. An album, containing fifteen paintings and accompanying texts, attributed 
to the twelfth-century painter Ma Ho-chih; ink and color on silk. Originally 
this was a handscroll, like the three versions above, but was later cut up and 
remounted as an album. The painter was not Ma Ho-chih, but presumably 
an unknown member of the imperial painting academy contemporary with 
Ma or slightly later. A complete copy of the original scroll, done in the 
eighteenth century by the court painter Chin T'ing-piao, preserves the 
three lost compositions (Chin T'ing-piao's copy is listed below as no. 9). A 
portion of the "Ma Ho-chih" version is reproduced below as figure 42. 
National Palace Museum, Taipei. ^ 

5. An anonymous late Sung or Yiian (i2th-i4th century) handscroll; color on 
silk, with nine chapters of text and illustration. This is the version of the 
subject later attributed to the seventh-century master Yen Li-pen. Liao- 
ning Provincial Museum, Shen-yang.9 



6. A handscroll in eighteen chapters, complete, with the signature of Chao 
Meng-fu (1254-1327); ink on silk. National Palace Museum, Taipei. ^° 

7. A printed book with the text of eighteen chapters and colloquial trans- 
lation, and fifteen wood-block print illustrations, published in 1308 as 
Hsin-k'an ch'uan-hsiang Ch'eng-chai Hsiao-ching chih-chieh. One section is re- 
produced here as figure 35.^^ 

8. A handscroll in eighteen chapters, with paintings by Ch'iu Ying (ca. 1494- 
1552) and text written by Wen Cheng-ming (1470-1559); ink and color on 
silk. According to Wen's colophon, the painting was copied from a Sung 
version by Wang Tzu-cheng (active nth century). It is related to nos. 4 and 
5 above, but is not identical to either. National Palace Museum, Taipei. 

9. A complete copy, in handscroll form, by the court painter Chin T'ing-piao 
(mid-i8th century) of the Ma Ho-chih version listed above as no. 4, done 
before the latter suffered the loss of three sections, and presumably before 
it was changed from a handscroll into an album; color on silk. National 
Palace Museum, Taipei. ^3 

Among other recorded versions of the work that are no longer extant, so far as 
we know, was one by Li's student Ting Hsi-han.M In any case, the pictorial 
tradition of illustrations of the Classic of Filial Piety begins with Li Kung-lin, for 
all practical purposes. 



til W M^*-*^^""^ 

Figure 35. Chapters 5 and 6 of 
the New Edition, Completely 
Illustrated, of Ch'eng-chai's "Classic 
of Filial Piety," 1308. Wood-block 
print edition of the Classic of Filial 

In the following analysis and description of Li's compositions, reference will be 
made to some of the other versions, especially to the complete copy in Taipei, 
which allows us at least a glimpse of the three missing segments of the original 
scroll. In general, however, the relationship between Li's original painting and 
the later versions is that of a classical model to its later perpetuation, in widely 
varying degrees of exaggeration. There is a vague correlation to the musical 
relationship of theme to variations. Li's painting appears to be the only one in 
the sequence of nine that creates its own compositions and thematic images, 
establishes its own formal and stylistic character, and serves as a pictorial reflec- 
tion of the artist's thought. The later works, by contrast, share a general feeling 
of institutional anonymity and differ from one another primarily in superficial 
detail, not in substance. Li's work, uniquely, interprets a classical theme as if 
providing a learned commentary from the viewpoint of the activities, values, 
people, policies, and events of the artist's own time. It is, in other words, an 
original work of art of the highest order; all other versions are but reflections 
of it. 

The present scroll, in its fragmentary and much-damaged form, measures 473 
centimeters (about if/2 feet) in length and, though irregular because of the wear 
and tear of the silk at the top and bottom, averages about 21 to 22 centimeters 
(between 874 and 8V2 inches) in height. Colophons add approximately 19 feet in 
overall length. The silk, darkened and worn after centuries of rolling and unroll- 
ing, is now a deep brown. There is an occasional faint tinge of green visible. 



curiously enhancing the scroll's venerable appearance, like the weathered patina 
on an ancient bronze vessel. The silk is damaged over its entire surface and was 
repaired several times, as well as substantially retouched and repainted in nu- 
merous sections. 

Most recently, the entire scroll has been thoroughly cleaned and repaired, with 
all earlier retouching and repairing removed insofar as possible (that process is 
the subject of Appendix 2, in the present volume). 

In its original form, the scroll was composed of eighteen illustrations separated 
by the eighteen corresponding chapters of the text. The text of each chapter 
follows the painting that illustrates it. Text and illustration are separated by 
double and sometimes by triple parallel brush lines drawn with a straightedge. 
The warped appearance of those framing lines is a good indication of the dis- 
figuring damage the silk has sustained. Sometime before the seventeenth cen- 
tury, the opening section of the scroll— consisting of the first two illustrations, 
the first section of text and part of the second, and the illustration to section 6— 
was lost. In addition, the end of the scroll is irregularly torn, and throughout its 
length portions of the text and illustrations at top and bottom are lost. The 
originally continuous silk has, moreover, been torn apart at six places and hangs 
together by only a thread at another. At the end of the scroll, a tiny bit of silk 
bearing both the signature "Kung-lin" and a largely illegible seal directly below 
has been patched into place, having been completely separated when the end of 
the silk was torn away (fig. 36). Under a very strong light, the first character of 
the seal can still be deciphered; it reads: "Li." 

It is clear that the centuries have left the scroll in a ravaged state, a few fragile 
pieces of battered, broken silk. Yet to unroll the painting today and come upon 
these tiny, ghostlike figures acting out the timeless rituals of an ancient civiliza- 
tion is strangely reassuring. That the work has survived at all is miraculous. 

The paintings are done in a fine pai-miao, or ink-outline, technique. The barely 
visible color is achieved with occasional ink washes of silvery gray and possibly 
a few touches of vermilion and dark green. The vermilion and green, however, 
have nearly disappeared, surviving only as faint tints of now uncertain place- 
ment. Within the limitations of his technique the painter achieved a remarkable 
degree of tonal subtlety, contrasting strong black lines and pale washes in a 
variety of combinations. Each figure is portrayed with an acute sensitivity to 
nuances of characterization and social status; from emperor to beggar, each is 
readily identifiable. Architecture, furniture, and landscape accessories are lim- 
ited; the human element is everywhere paramount. 

The text is written in the small k'ai, or model, script. The character ching, "to 
respect," occurs twenty-three times; in each case the final stroke is missing. The 
characters jang, "to yield," and k'uang, "to correct," each occur once, and they, 
too, lack their final strokes. K'uang was part of the given name of the founder of 
the Sung dynasty. Emperor T'ai-tsu (r. 960-95); ching was the name of his grand- 



father; and jang was the given name of the father of Emperor Ying-ts'ung 
(r. 1064-67). Normally, a Sung writer would have substituted other characters to 
avoid offending the imperial family, but in the case of a classical Confucian text 
they are simply written with a stroke missing. Copyists rarely observe such 
subtleties, however. Indeed, they generally quite unconsciously observe the 
imperial taboos of their own period and thus give themselves away. In the Taipei 
copy of the Princeton scroll, for example, none of the Sung taboos is consistently 

The style of the calligraphy is a profound evocation of the manner of the early Six 
Dynasties period (4th-5th century). Its restrained, classical spirit perfectly com- 
plements the paintings, which, if one were to cite a single tradition, share the 
simplicity and refinement of Ku K'ai-chih's Admonitions handscroll, dating origi- 
nally to the fourth century. Li Kung-lin's contemporaries compared his calligra- 
phy to that of the masters of the Chin (317-419) and Wei (386-534) dynasties, his 
painting to the tradition of Ku K'ai-chih (344-405) and Lu T'an-wei (late 5th 
century), and his personality to the great poets, painters, and eccentrics of the 
Chin dynasty. ^5 

When it entered the collection of the eminent scholar of the arts Tung Ch'i- 
ch'ang (1555-1636) early in the seventeenth century, the Metropolitan Museum's 



scroll had an uncertain provenance. There was only one earlier colophon at- 
tached. Dated to a cyclical year corresponding in all probability to either 1230 or 
1290, the colophon is signed "Han-man- weng," a name not otherwise identifi- 
able. The text, very similar to a biography of Li Kung-lin published in 1167, is 
written in a fluid, elegant, and vibrant manner, close to that of the distinguished 
late-Sung master Chang Chi-chih (1186-1266). From the seventeenth century to 
the twentieth, however, a succession of owners and admirers have written colo- 
phons for the scroll. Tung Ch'i-ch'ang wrote four of them, the last dated 1609, 
and in 1603 had the text of chapter 9 reproduced for his collection of classical 
calligraphy. A later owner, the collector Pi Lung, wrote no fewer than six colo- 
phons during the last decade of the eighteenth century. Another eighteenth- 
century owner built a special hall to house the work, and in the nineteenth 
century a reproduction by stone engraving was made and ink rubbings of it 
circulated widely, attracting still more admirers. Appendix 1, in the present 
volume, summarizes the documentation and transmission of the scroll. 

While we have no certain information about the provenance of the scroll be- 
tween 1085, the year in which it was probably painted, and around 1600, when it 
was acquired by Tung Ch'i-ch'ang, we know that it was among the most admired 
and celebrated works by an artist whose reputation never declined. Beginning 
with Li Kung-lin's friend Su Shih, a succession of poets, painters, scholars, and 
collectors owned, saw, and wrote about the scroll and about other versions 
attributed to Li, as well as about the many copies of his works and paintings. To 
judge from this recorded history, Li Kung-lin's Classic of Filial Piety has been one 
of the preeminent monuments of Chinese cultural and art history for over a 
thousand years. The effect it has had upon those who have seen and studied it 
during the millennium may be suggested by a colophon written by the late- 
fifteenth-century scholar Lu Wan: 

In Li Kung-lin's illustrations of the Classic of Filial Piety, although he says that he 
selected only one or two concepts to accompany the chapters, in fact, from the 
emperor down to the common people, the details of decorous and dignified 
behavior, the pattern of the heavenly sacrifices, the customs of the countryside, 
the regulation of vessels and implements, the nature of the nourishment and 
raising of the family — all are quite complete. When Su Shih said that Li Kung- 
lin's spirit was joined to the myriad things and that his knowledge penetrated 
all human crafts, what he meant can be understood by those who study this 
scroll. Those who have praised his painting are of course numerous. As to his 
calligraphy, however, although the histories declare him wonderful beyond 
compare, his writing is seldom seen. Now, as I look at the force of his brush, I 
seem to see a great man hurrying respectfully to and fro in the newly arranged 
purity of the ancestral temple, jade pendants tinkling at his waist. Clear, sim- 
ple, and dignified, it preserves the spirit and resonance of the ancient Chin and 
Sung periods. 




The Scope and Meaning of the Treatise 

Once when Confucius was unoccupied, and Tseng-tzu was sitting in attendance, the 
Master said: "Shen, the ancient kings had a perfect virtue and all-embracing rule of 
conduct, through which they were in accord with all under heaven. By the practice of 
it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony, and there was no ill will be- 
tween superiors and inferiors. Do you know what it was?" Tseng-tzu arose from his 
mat and said, "How could 1, Shen, who am so devoid of intelligence, know this?" The 
Master said, "It is filial piety that is the root of all virtue, and that from which all 
moral teaching grows. Sit down again and I will explain the subject to you. Our bod- 
ies, down to every strand of hair and bit of skin, are received from our parents, and 
we do not dare to injure or wound them. This is the beginning of filial piety. When 
we have established our character by the practice of the Way, so as to make our name 
known to future ages and thereby to glorify our parents, that is the end of filial piety. 
It commences with the service of our parents; it proceeds to the service of our ruler; it 
is completed by the establishment of our character. It is said in the Book of Songs: 

Ever think of your ancestors. 
Cultivating your virtue. "^7 

Li Kung-lin's illustration for this first, introductory section of the text is lost, 
almost certainly destroyed by the damage inflicted on the opening section of the 
handscroll through its repeated opening, unrolling, and closing. That process 
has resulted in the loss of the first section of the scroll, consisting of one com- 
plete chapter of text and part of another and two paintings. The very close, 
though pedestrian, copy of the entire scroll in the National Palace Museum, 
Taipei, made before the original suffered its present damage, preserves the first 
composition (fig. 37). In it, Confucius sits on a low k'ang, or traditional Chinese 
couch, expounding on the nature of filial piety to his attentive disciples. Ten of 
them are arrayed like a frame to his back and sides, while the eleventh, Tseng- 
tzu, sits slightly apart and to the front. It is Tseng-tzu to whom Confucius had 
addressed his opening question. Now the Master, his right hand raised in expla- 
nation, begins to expound on the principles of filial piety. 

Since all available evidence indicates that Li Kung-lin himself selected the indi- 
vidual compositions for each of the chapters, choosing the sections of text on 
which to focus for each illustration, we may look upon them as a form of intellec- 
tual commentary and as a personal reflection upon both filial piety and the 
nature of Sung society. When read in this way, they offer a rich survey not only 
of the people and activities of late-eleventh-century China but also of Li Kung- 
lin's own assessment of his tradition and the nature of its reality in his lifetime. 



Figure 37. Unidentified artist In this Opening painting, for example, Li introduces one of the consistent themes 

de^lZTlhtpt'l^^^^ commentary, the separation of the individual from the larger group. 

of Filial Piety. Handscroll, ink on Tseng-tzu, the favorite disciple of Confucius and affectionately addressed by 

paper, SV.e x 276^/8 in (20.5 x ^im as Shen, is here called on to separate himself from the others and to respond 

702.1 cm). National Palace Museum, ^ 

Taipei to the Master. Of course, it would not be appropriate for a mere disciple to 

supply the answer to Confucius's profoundly important question, so he merely 
sits attentively, his eyes lowered in reverence, as the Master speaks. In this and 
later illustrations, Li seems to convey his awareness of the pressures placed on 
the individual in a society that values above all the hieratic patriarchal family 
and community. Li's own hereditary family was of the old aristocracy, now 
disenfranchised, and the class of society to which he belonged was the scholar- 
bureaucracy. His intermittent, lengthy, but unsuccessful career as a petty bu- 
reaucrat and minor officer in local administration was probably accompanied by 
a continuing inner debate over the personal choice between filial service to the 
state and private, individual explorations through a life devoted to art and 

There are other interesting comments made in this initial illustration. Con- 
fucius, China's greatest teacher, is distinguished from his disciples in several 
ways. Although he is elevated slightly above them by the height of the k'ang on 
which he sits, he is shown closely among them, as one of the group. He alone 
wears a black scholar's hat, however, and he is slightly larger than any of the 
disciples. By depicting Confucius as physically larger than mere mortals, Li 
adapts an old convention used traditionally in the depiction of kings and emper- 
ors. This was appropriate, since Confucius had long ago been elevated to the 



position of teacher, even by the emperor of China. In symboUzing teaching and 
learning, he represents the Sung ideal of self-acquired knowledge gained 
through discipline and intelligence, an ideal by which society as a whole could 
hope to function effectively. 

If there were earlier paintings of Confucius similar to this one, they do not seem 
to have survived. The earlier type of imaginary portrait of Confucius that has 
survived is a standing figure, which is also the traditional convention for the 
depiction of meritorious officials and scholars. Instead of that rather formal, 
public tradition, Li may have had reference to two quite different traditions of 
ideal portraiture. Classic T'ang and Sung depictions of Vimalakirti, the Chinese 
lay saint of Buddhism, typically show him seated on a k'ang and dressed much 
like Confucius in Li's composition. The painting illustrated here (fig. 38) is in 
fact attributed to Li, though it is probably a distant copy of one of his lost 
original works. ^9 



Figure 39. Attributed to Wang 
Wei (701-761), Fu Sheng Expounding 
the Classics. Handscroll, ink and 
color on silk, 10 x 17^/8 in. (25.4 x 
44.7 cm). Osaka Municipal 
Museum of Art 

A second notable pictorial tradition that focused on the transmission and expli- 
cation of classic Confucian texts depicted the great Han scholar Fu Sheng, who 
transmitted the classics from memory many years after they had all been de- 
stroyed at the order of the First Emperor, Ch'in Shih-huang-ti (259-210 B.C.). In 
the fragmentary image of Fu Sheng (3rd century b.c.) attributed to the T'ang 
master Wang Wei (701-761; fig. 39), the saintly old man leans his emaciated 
body forward to point out passages in the scroll that he holds out toward the 
official who, in the original painting, knelt before him, much as Tseng-tzu 
kneels before Confucius. That part of the Wang Wei scroll is now lost, though it 
appears in later versions. 

What Li Kung-lin does with these traditions is to intensify their inherent drama 
by grouping Confucius and his disciples tightly together, with Tseng-tzu some- 
what apart, and by allowing only one point of entry into the composition, the 
space between the Master and Tseng-tzu, which continues out to the viewer. We 
are immediately engaged in the structure of the narrative by being asked to 
become the fourth point of a horizontal diamond, the other points of which are 
marked by Tseng-tzu, the uppermost disciple, and the disciple at the far left. We 
have become the audience in a small, intimate theater, almost sitting onstage, 
with the actors at touching distance. 

It was undoubtedly one of Li Kung-lin's most significant achievements to have 
found the means by which to engage his audience so closely within the continu- 
ing story of his paintings. We begin with this frontispiece, as it were, which sets 
in motion the discourse that follows, as the Master continues to speak. 




Filial Piety in the Son of Heaven 

He who loves his parents will not dare to hate any man. He who respects his parents 

will not dare to be contemptuous of any man. When love and respect are thus carried 

to the utmost in the service of his parents, the lessons of his virtue affect all the people 

and he becomes a model to all within the Four Seas. This is the filial piety of the Son 

of Heaven. As it is said in the Marquis of Fu on Punishment: 

The One Man has goodness, 
And his people rely on him.^"^ 

Each chapter in the Classic of Filial Piety pertains to a different expression of filial 
piety, and their arrangement in its hieratic order is like a model of traditional 
Chinese society. After the initial proclamation on the subject of filial piety, the 
text begins with the filiality of the emperor. In the Taipei copy of Li Kung-lin's 
lost illustration of this chapter (fig. 40), we see a fat emperor being ceremoni- 
ously helped to his trembling knees by two attendants. Carefully, they lower the 
huge mass of their sovereign to the floor as he prepares to prostrate himself in 
abject filiality before his mother. Twenty men and women of the imperial entou- 
rage look on impassively at this display. We must assume that an emperor of 
China was free to demonstrate his love and respect for his mother in less 
dramatic— even more sincere— ways than this. The depiction of this overstuffed, 
overdressed, and overly protected man being helped to his knees while dozens 
of observers look on impassively appears to be a pointed and ironic commentary 
on the relatively simple words of the text. At the very least, the painter seems to 
be implying that in the official court society in which he was compelled to spend 
so many years, only the most obvious gesture made any impression; only the 
most dramatic ceremony carried any meaning. By contrast, in the simple human 
scenes of family gatherings that Li presents elsewhere in the scroll, subtle ges- 
tures and unaffected interactions are sufficient; their meaning is understood. 

Because the emperor served as a model for all to follow, the several roles he 
played often required visibility and public display. One such role was that of the 
son. Throughout the history of imperial China, the nature of the relationship 
between the reigning emperor and his mother was always carefully scrutinized, 
because so many other relationships emanated from it. 

The emperor's mother lived in separate, palatial quarters, limited to women and 
eunuchs. She was served there by a vast entourage of women who were orga- 
nized, like the male bureaucracy, into different ranks, duties, and salaries that 
were similarly subject to detailed regulatory structures. A visit by the emperor 
to his mother necessarily required advance negotiations and careful preparation. 
The public display of this preparation probably resulted in the kind of ritualistic 



performance depicted here, observed by a sufficiently large audience to ensure 
that word of it would reach all necessary ears. The center of a vast network of 
bureaucratic organization, the emperor had to please many interests, and his 
every action was watched by a multitude for its potential implications. 
It seems evident that what Li wished to convey by this illustration was the 
pretension and hollowness of such ceremony. His emperor, a fat, smirking aris- 
tocrat, is so overfed that he cannot even lower himself to the floor without 
assistance. His mother, elegant and infinitely patient, appears attentive to the 
humiliation to which he subjects himself. And pointedly, at the center of the 
composition, Li puts nothing. This hollow center is not the infinite space of 
Buddhism, but the emptiness of ostentatious display. 



Li's style, in comparison, specifically represents an aesthetic of nonostentation. 
The corresponding term in Chinese is p'ing-tan, "bland," or, literally, "flat and 
pale." The term for his uncolored ink drawing, pai-miao, means plain, or un- 
colored, line. This style, invented by Li, stands in contrast to what was then the 
prevailing style of figural and dramatic narrative painting, which presented 
bold, pageantlike settings, rich color, and elaborate decorative details, as well as 
exaggerated expressions and melodramatic gestures. 

The late Northern Sung period, beginning about the time Li painted the Classic 
of Filial Piety, in 1085, displayed a new fashion for simplicity and restraint in 
dress, furniture, decoration, design, and other areas of human activity. A 
similar turn toward the aesthetic of p'ing-tan occurred in art and literature, and 
certainly calligraphers, painters, and poets began at this time to explore new 
directions characterized by the formal and stylistic simplification of the elabo- 
rate forms then prevalent. ^3 Reforms of this kind affected nearly everything, 
from music and ritual to ceramics, essay writing, and court ceremonies. Reflect- 
ing a kind of neoclassicism then permeating Sung society, they were rooted in 
what were believed to be ancient orders of uncluttered simplicity. 

Li Kung-lin's Classic of Filial Piety is among the works of art that first revealed this 
tendency, and clearly the underlying subject of his illustration for chapter 2 is 
the hollow center of ostentation and empty display at every level of society. 




Filial Piety in the Princes of State 

When a prince is not proud and arrogant, he will not incur peril in spite of his high 
position. By exercising self-restraint he is judicious, ever keeping a proper balance be- 
tween his need and use of material things. By such moderation his cup of wealth is full 
without wasteful overflow. And thus, preserving wealth and rank, he will be able to 
retain possession of his altars of the land and the grain and keep his subjects in peace. 
This is the filial piety of the prince of state. It is said in the Book of Songs: 

Be apprehensive, be cautious. 
As if on the brink of a deep abyss, 
As if treading on thin ice.^'^ 

The princes of state in imperial China were the sons, adopted sons, brothers, 
and other chosen ones of the emperor, selected by the Son of Heaven to share, if 
only symbolically, the imperial blood, power, and privilege. Usually children of 
the emperor, they also represented him, playing important roles in the adminis- 
tration of civil and military control of the population. Each occupied a princely 
mansion or palace, received great wealth from the throne, and wielded financial, 
political, and military power second only to that of the emperor himself. In fact, 
the imperial princes were often profligate, greedy, destructive men, with exces- 
sive wealth and nearly unlimited power. In the imperially hieratic sequence of 
chapter subjects in the Classic of Filial Piety, the discussion of the filiality of the 
princes of state comes immediately following that concerning the emperor. This 
reflection of the socio-political and hereditary structures of China in the second 
or third century b.c. was still applicable to the ostensibly very changed struc- 
ture of Sung China when Li Kung-lin painted these visual interpretations of the 
concepts and abuses of filial piety. This may suggest that the much-vaunted 
social, economic, and political advances often associated with the Sung period 
were not, in fact, what modern liberal humanists like to imagine they were.25 Li 
Kung-lin's paintings appear to point quite directly to the terrible fracture that 
had long existed between hereditary wealth and privilege on the one hand and 
the lives and circumstances of the common people— including scholars— on the 
other. Li Kung-lin's position within this social dichotomy was ambiguous; he 
was descended from a great hereditary family, yet he lived his life in the com- 
pany of artists, scholars, and poets. 

In Li's illustration for chapter 3, a prince rides by a group of villagers— 
presumably, his subjects, all of whom are in the lower left corner of the composi- 
tion (pi. 1). One of the villagers looks up reverently, while two others, with 
hands joined in respect, look down. One old man with a crutch ignores the 
passing procession altogether, however, and a crippled figure raises a fist in 



anger at his overlord. Formally, this small, helpless group is isolated from and 
nearly overwhelmed by the force, majesty, and strength of the prince and his 
retinue. In the face of this potential threat to the security of his altars and his 
privileges, the prince of state is apprehensive and cautious, "As if on the brink of 
a deep abyss, /As if treading on thin ice." He is surrounded and protected by a 
retinue of soldiers. The lead officer appears about to draw his sword as he stares 
suspiciously at the ragged group. Li Kung-lin makes it clear that they do not have 
the capacity to threaten their great lord; the prince, in his turn, "is not proud 
and arrogant"; on the contrary, he appears to be a man of keen and intelligent 
sympathy for the welfare of even the poorest of his people. Behind him sits an 
elderly, distinguished-looking man, who reinforces the ideal of human concern 
and dignity. But around them are gathered the badges and elements of power: 
soldiers, weapons, horses, carriages, banners, and uniforms— all of which have 
the single purpose of protecting the prince from the harm that may come from 
unexpected sources at any moment. 

The Tightness of the preservation of imperial power is the overriding message of 
the Classic of Filial Piety. In his paintings, Li Kung-lin appears to function not so 
much as a critic of the system but as a commentator on its abuses and excesses, 
illustrating the text in such a way as to emphasize the price paid in human 
suffering for the maintenance of hereditary privilege. 

For his prince, Li drew upon representations of sages and philosophers of earlier 
times. Perhaps the most striking model was the idealized portrait of a wise man, 
either the Taoist philosopher Lao-tzu or the Buddhist saint Samanthabhadra, 
preserved in the Shinshogokurakuji, Kyoto (fig. 41).^*^ In such images, he would 
have found the prince's attitude of attentive concern and his position of lean- 
ing forward from the front of a carriage. The military entourage he surely 
would have known from his own daily observation, and the lives of the peasant 
population were visible to anyone who cared to look. There was, in fact, no 
reason for Li to have introduced such figures at all, unless he specifically wished 
us to understand them in the context of their relationship to power. He could 
simply have shown us a prince, practicing "moderation" and "restraint." 

In this, the first of Li's original illustrations to have survived in the scroll, are all 
the essential elements of his art. The entire upper two-thirds of the composition 
is a dense mass of line and of ink tones that conveys the pageantry of the 
princely entourage. By creating this rich, heavy pattern above, Li isolates the 
figures below, creating a tension between the dramatically unequal groups. By 
thus emphasizing the poverty, frailness, and insignificance of the common peo- 
ple, the artist calls further attention to the excesses of wealth and power held by 
those who rest literally on top of them. 

There is in the illustration to chapter 3 a spontaneity to the brush drawing that 
is, of course, lacking in the anonymous copies of the two lost illustrations for 
chapters 1 and 2. The sense that Li drew these figures slowly, spontaneously. 





and quite easily is still vivid. All the more remarkable, then, is the sureness of 
his hand, since the drawing was done directly onto the raw silk, without prelimi- 
nary sketches or other preparation. The picture is, in fact, more like a prepara- 
tory drawing than a finished painting, and we may begin to wonder whether it 
was a study for a later, more polished version, or for another form altogether— 
such as a book with wood-block print illustrations. 

Figure 41. Unidentified artist 
(11th century?), Samanthabhadm 
Bodhisattva. Hanging scroll, 
ink and color on silk, ^i^/hX 

in. (131.8x54.4 cm). 
Shinshogokurakuji, Kyoto 



Filial Piety in High Ministers and Great Officers 

They do not presume to wear robes other than those appointed by the laws of the an- 
cient kings, nor to speak words other than those sanctioned by them, nor to exhibit 
conduct other than that exemplified by their virtuous ways. Thus, none of their words 
being contrary to those sanctions, and none of their actions contrary to the Way, 
from their mouths there comes no objectionable speech, and in their conduct there are 
found no objectionable actions. Their words may fill all under heaven, yet no error 
of speech will be found in them. Their actions may fill all under heaven, yet no dis- 
satisfaction or dislike will be awakened by them. When these three things are all 
complete, and as they should be, they can then preserve their ancestral temples. This 
is the filial piety of high ministers and great officers. In the Book of Songs it is said: 

He is never idle, day or night, 
In the service of the One Man. ^7 

In his illustration of the filial piety of high officers and ministers of state (pi. 2), 
Li Kung-lin expands upon the image of teaching and learning with which his 
pictorial program began. Here, it is the emperor who sits upon the k'ang, with 
his high officials gathered behind him as attentively as the disciples of Con- 
fucius in the earlier image. Perhaps not incidentally there are, in fact, eleven 
officials and ministers here, just as there are eleven disciples in the first com- 
position. Before the emperor kneels the Minister of the Right, who presumably 
addresses a memorial. His counterpart in the dualistic structure of ministerial 
power in traditional China, the Minister of the Left, stands to the left of the 
throne. What we see in this image of an ideal ruler and his ministers are the 
costumes sanctioned by the ancient kings. What we hear are the words of the 
ancient kings, and what we observe is the model conduct approved by the an- 
cient kings for their ministers. 

There is, nonetheless, a sense of danger, exposure, and fear, and there is every 
reason to believe that Li Kung-lin was entirely familiar with the tensions, per- 
sonal and factional rivalries, scheming, and manipulative pursuit of personal 
gain that characterized Northern Sung court politics. Unlike the disciples of 
Confucius, who are shown sitting quietly and attentively around the sage, the 
high officials behind the emperor stand like a protective shield. One of them 
carries a halberd, which he is prepared to use should anything threaten his 
ruler. The kowtowing Minister of the Right is fully exposed to the power of the 
emperor and to the observant eyes of his fellow minister and the watchful body 
of officials. Among these men passed vicious slander and destructive innu- 
endos, and any one of them could have been replaced in an instant at the whim of 





the emperor. Yet the foundations of the government depended on the honest 
functioning of opinion, recommendation, and criticism. This was a difficult 
requirement at best, and it often failed in the face of ambition and corruption. 
What Li helps us to see is the perilous balance maintained at court between 
effective government and factional disasters. He himself lived in the midst of 
that reality, and he counted among his friends both political reformers and their 
opponents, who sought to perpetuate the ideals of the ancient kings. How much 
of the true circumstances of political strife is actually embedded in the painting 
may be argued, but undoubtedly Li intended that we see the exposure to danger 
that confronted all officials in the figure of the Minister of the Right, who falls on 
his elbows at the feet of the emperor. 

If we compare Li's painting with another version of the same subject by a very 
different kind of painter, we can see how effectively Li conveys this sense of 
confrontation and potential disaster. That version (fig. 42), painted by a twelfth- 
century court artist, traditionally has been attributed to Ma Ho-chih (active 
second half 12th century). Generally, if loosely, it follows the prototype estab- 
lished by Li. The twelfth-century painter draws a wider stage, however, and fills 
it with palatial architectural structures, with trees and rocks, and with garden 
plants. He also extends the stage back into space, adding a veranda and an open 
court beyond the foreground focus. But here we can scarcely speak of a focus; 
rather, we look upon a pageant set in an elaborate garden. Far to the left, back 
among the columns, sits the now nearly insignificant figure of the emperor. Four 



armed bailiffs stand casually before the raised throne chamber, as the Minister 
of the Right kowtows between them. Up on the porch, where the emperor sits, 
only three officials are in attendance, together with the bowing figure of the 
Minister of the Left. 

Li's painting has a very different impact. Except for the couch, there are no 
accessories; nor is there any description of setting or place. There is no architec- 
ture, no garden, no indication of specific location. We are, quite simply, in the 
immediate presence of the emperor. And that is the only fact of place that mat- 
ters. In this leap of imagination, Li dispenses with everything extraneous. The 
imperial presence, however, is not isolated; he joins a powerful company of 
officials and guardians, whose combined presence conveys a sense of claustro- 
phobia and threat. To fall to one's knees before the imperial feet is to give one's 
life over to an unpredictable fate. 

Here, again, we observe the casual, slow ease with which Li has drawn his 
images, the seeming carelessness even of the details— the elaborate but informal 
decoration, for example, over the imperial couch— and we may again suspect 
that this is not a finished painting but rather a sketch for a more polished, or 
formal, version that no longer exists— if it was, in fact, ever done. 




Filial Piety in Lesser Officials 

As they serve their fathers, so they serve their mothers, and they love them equally. 

As they serve their fathers, so they serve their rulers, and they reverence them equally. 

Hence, love is what is chiefly rendered to the ruler, while both of these things are 

given to the father. Therefore, when they serve their ruler with filial piety they are 

loyal; when they serve their superiors with reverence they are obedient. Not failing in 

this loyalty and obedience in serving those above them, they are then able to preserve 

their emoluments and positions, and to maintain their sacrifices. This is the filial piety 

of the lesser officials. It is said in the Book of Songs: 

Rising early and going to sleep late, 

Do not disgrace those who gave you birth. 

Nearly all the human orders of relationship described in the Classic of Filial Piety 
are unequal. They form a society based on servitude and draw the picture of a 
pyramid, its greatest mass and weight at the base, in the common people, who 
serve and sustain those ever smaller groups above until we see alone at the top 
the emperor of China. 

The family was a microcosm of that imperial structure, a model for the empire. 
In it, the father reigned supreme, like the emperor. But unlike the emperor, the 
father was owed not only respect but also love. Within this politicized social 
structure, the mother, interestingly, was owed only love, not respect. 

In his illustrations, Li Kung-lin repeatedly calls our attention to the abuses of the 
structure of inequality that permeated Chinese society and to the heightened 
tensions that individual actions were subject to. He does this pictorially, and in 
many ways. At the same time, he consistently offers alternatives, most often in 
the ideal portrait of the family that he creates. His illustration for chapter 5 is 
typical (pi. 3). In it, we see a man and his wife serving a meal to (presumably) 
his father and mother. There are no servants here, only parents and children. 
The man and wife share responsibilities, he kneeling to prepare the food, she 
bringing a dish from the kitchen. Seated on a mat on the floor, in front of an 
enclosing folding screen, the father looks over at his wife and holds out his 
hand, as if to offer her first choice of the food they are served by their children. 
The many containers and utensils arrayed before the mat suggest that this is an 
elaborate feast, of many courses. 

The mother and father are portrayed with exceptional sensitivity. He holds out 
his right hand, palm up, as he looks over at her. She, in turn, glances toward her 
husband, a faint smile on her lips as if she is speaking. Rarely in Chinese art had 
a husband and wife been depicted with such intimacy and apparent affection. 



« t *i' * 

Figure 43. After Ku K'ai-chih 
(ca. 344-ca. 406), "Family Group," 
from Admonitions of the Instructress 
to the Court Ladies, possibly 8th 
century. Handscroll, ink and color 
on silk, g'^'/ihX i37'/,6 in. (24.9 x 
347.6 cm). Courtesy of the Trustees 
of the British Museum, London 

The sensitivity of its expression would suggest that the essential relations among 
the mother, father, son, and daughter were a fundamental concern of the artist. 
And it might further suggest that he viewed those relations somewhat dif- 
ferently from the text he was illustrating and from the traditions it was intended 
to perpetuate. 

Pictorial precedents for this painting are difficult to find, since portrayals of 
intimate family gatherings were not common in the artistic traditions of imperial 
China. Li's admiration for the ancient master Ku K'ai-chih (ca. 344-ca. 406), 
however, proves rewarding. In Ku's famed Admonitions of the Instructress to the 
Court Ladies there are several scenes of family life at court, including the one 
illustrated here, of an extended family of three generations (fig. 43). At the 
distant apex of the triangle that they form is the patriarch, while his son and the 
son's wife form the other two points. It was undoubtedly from such paintings as 
this that Li learned the principles of both composition and the depiction of 
human interaction. Both his painting and Ku's are formed upon a rhythmic, 
ongoing choreography of movement and human intercourse. Li rejects the hiera- 
tic triangle of the earlier master, however, for a more open, less structured form: 
the daughter enters from the right carrying a tray, the son kneels to prepare and 
serve the food, the father leans and gestures toward his wife, and she smiles and 
speaks to him in return. Movement is not arrested but continues like a slow 
dance to give life to the image. 

It is impossible not to sense in such paintings Li's deep affection for the people he 
portrays. Surely they are visualizations of the reality of his own life and family. It 
seems likely that when he painted a father he was recalling his own father, and 
that when he painted a mother she was related somehow to his own. He then 
becomes the kneeling son, the wife approaching from the side, his own. 






Filial Piety in the Common People 

They follow the course of heaven, and distinguish the advantages of the soil; they are 
careful of their conduct, and economical in their expenditure— all in order to nourish 
their parents. This is the filial piety of the common people. In this way, from the Son 
of Heaven down to the common people, there has never been one whose filial piety was 
without its beginning or its end upon whom calamity did not fall. ^9 

Li Kung-lin's original illustration for this chapter is lost, and we again refer 
instead to the careful copy preserved in Taipei (fig. 44). The chapter on the 
filiality of the common people, as befits their position in traditional Chinese 
society, is the briefest in the classic, composed basically of only one sentence 
(the last sentence in the translation above is actually a summation of the import 
of the first six chapters). The view put forth in the Classic of Filial Piety on the 
responsibilities of the common people is the self-serving product of a hereditary 

In his paintings, Li consistently presents a sympathetic perspective on peasant 
life. As far as we know, he did not endanger his own welfare to help them 
toward better conditions, and as a great landowner himself it was in his own 
interest to have a happy and contented peasantry. Nevertheless, his art seems to 
suggest that he sympathized with the many who suffered at the hands of those 
who enjoyed power and wealth, depicting them as victims, as beggars, cripples, 
and orphans— all at the mercy of the predatory and the arrogant. 

Here, in a composition of three tiers or registers, Li illustrates— from top to 
bottom— plowing, harvesting, and looking after the parents. The stream be- 
tween the low banks that winds through the middle of the composition contin- 
ues into and through the following composition, illustrating chapter 7. The two 
illustrations appear to function as an extended, almost musical vision of a har- 
monious society, in which all classes live in peace and are mutually governed by 
filial respect and courtesy. 

Because in this copy of the composition all nuance of expression and gesture is 
lost, we can only imagine from the illustrations to the other chapters the sensi- 
tivity with which the painter portrayed the peasants. In all likelihood, he por- 
trayed them exactly as he did the family of the lesser officials— the class to which 
he himself belonged. These peasants are poor, and they dress more simply than 
their wealthier landlords, but the vignette is not very different from the intimate 
family scene that illustrates chapter 5. A nice contrast can be drawn between this 
Sung image of an extended family of three generations and the image introduced 
by Ku K'ai-chih (fig. 43). One obvious difference is that Li's peasant family is 
shown first plowing, then harvesting the fields, and only then enjoying the 



Figure 44. Unidentified artist 
(14th century?), after Li Kung-lin, 
chapter 6 of the Classic of Filial 
Piety. HandscroU, ink on paper, 
8^/16 X 276''/8 in. (20.5X702.1 cm). 
National Palace Museum, Taipei 

fruits of its labor, whereas Ku's scene shows only an aristocratic family enjoying 
the leisure of its wealth and power. Li Kung-lin was himself a careful, hard- 
working craftsman whose calligraphy and painting both reflect a disciplined 
and deliberate process of labor. We can at least imagine that he was sensitive to 
the reality of work and to the direct connection between labor and its reward. 

What is clear is that Li was highly sympathetic to people as individuals rather 
than as groups. Not only do we see this sensitivity in his art, but we are told of it 
by his contemporaries. Often he would paint informal portraits of his friends 
that were so lifelike they would be used as substitutes for those friends when 
they could not themselves be present; and he was so attentive to nuances of 
class, region, personality, and even accent that his admirers could identify those 
characteristics from his paintings. Even horses, as was observed earlier, were 
regarded by Li as individuals. 3° 

This sensitive appreciation of the individual personality was essential to the 
philosophy of art then taking form within the circles frequented by Li Kung-lin. 
Traditionally, art had served the will of the rulers by illustrating for the people 
the evils to be avoided and the good toward which to strive. It had that function 
still for Li Kung-lin in the Classic of Filial Piety, yet the entire spirit of the scroll is 
conveyed by nuances of individual character and by the human interaction 
within families, society, and the imperial court. The belief that the art of paint- 
ing had the capacity to convey the individual "heart-print" (hsin-yin), or mind. 



was the central tenet of the theory of Uterati painting {wen-jen-hua) then taking 
shape within the brilHant coterie of scholars, philosophers, poets, calligraphers, 
and painters to which Li Kung-lin belonged. With this theory, Li and his friends 
claimed that painting should be invested with the same expressive capacity held 
by the sister arts of poetry and calligraphy. It was this theory that formed the 
basis of the later history of Chinese art. Li Kung-lin's Classic of Filial Piety was one 
of the first works of art to attempt the difficult task of giving human shape and 
reality to the traditional didactic texts, and the painstaking care given to 
nuances of human character is one of the essential ways that Li reveals his 
intentions. Another, of course, is the slow, natural, and spontaneous way he 
painted the entire scroll, creating an effect not at all like an official delivering a 
public speech, but rather like an old friend with whom one is having a quiet 
conversation on a subject of common concern. 

Spontaneity, informality, and absence of pretension are a few of the features 
among the many that distinguished the new scholarly elite from the old aristoc- 
racy. Once all people were seen to have the capacity to achieve merit through 
talent, intelligence, and discipline— and to have no particular birthright of posi- 
tion or privilege — every individual was seen to have the same value, and all were 
deemed to be equally precious. We can thus view the present painting as a 
pictorial exploration of the human tensions and realities within a society still 
struggling to find a balance between established powers and new ideals. 




Filial Piety in Relation to the Three Powers 

Tseng-tzu said, 'Immense indeed is the greatness of filial piety!" The Master replied, 
"Yes, filial piety is the constant pattern of heaven, the righteousness of earth, and the 
duty of man. Heaven and earth inevitably pursue their course, and the people take it 
as their pattern. The ancient kings imitated the brilliant luminaries of heaven, and 
acted in accordance with the advantages afforded by the earth, and were thus in accord 
with all under heaven. Consequently, their teachings were successful without being se- 
vere, and their government secured perfect order without being repressive. The ancient 
kings, seeing how their teachings could transform the people, set before them therefore 
an example of the most extended love, and none of the people neglected their parents; 
they set forth to them the example of virtue and righteousness, and the people roused 
themselves to the practice of them; they went before them with reverence and yielding 
courtesy, and the people had no contentions; they led them by the rules of propriety 
and by music, and the people were harmonious and benign; they showed them what 
they liked and disliked, and the people understood their prohibitions. It is said in 
the Book of Songs: 

Awe-inspiring are you, O Grand Master Yin, 
And all of the people look up to you."^^ 

In the center foreground of Li Kung-lin's composition for chapter 7 (pi. 4), a 
young boy listens respectfully to an old man who leans on a staff. Gesturing 
with his left hand, the old man appears to be instructing the boy, in illustration 
of the sentence "They set forth to them the example of virtue and righteousness, 
and the people roused themselves to the practice of them." In the lower right 
corner a plump, round-faced young man bows to an older man and a woman, as 
if about to depart on the horse being held for him nearby. The older couple must 
represent the parents of the young man, referring to the sentence "The ancient 
kings ... set before them ... an example of the most extended love, and none of 
the people neglected their parents." At the left, two friends meet and bow in 
greeting. One holds out his hand, inviting the other to pass, in illustration of the 
passage "They went before them with reverence and yielding courtesy, and the 
people had no contentions." In the upper left, on the opposite bank of the stream 
that divides the composition, a man lies sleeping, his shirt dropped carelessly 
beside him. A passerby, cold and shivering, dressed only in a loincloth, looks 
longingly down at the shirt that could warm his body. He walks on, however, 
resisting the temptation to pick it up. This incident illustrates the passage "They 
showed them what they liked and disliked, and the people understood their ^"^'''''"Z 

^ ^ Plate 4. Li Kung-lin, chapter 7 

prohibitions." According to the text, "The ancient kings ... led them by the of the Classic of Filial Piety 



rules of propriety and by music, and the people were harmonious and benign." 
Accompanying these vignettes of a harmonious and peaceful populace is a 
group of musicians in the upper right. Seven men sit cross-legged beneath the 
trees; one plays a drum, one a flute, and another perhaps a set of clappers. At 
least one of the others appears to be singing. In front of them are a dancer and 
another drummer, the latter a curiously wizened-looking young boy. An 
onlooker stands partly hidden behind the nearest tree. And squarely in the 
center of the composition is a striking garden rock of the variety beloved of 
scholars. Thus, the painter illustrates literally each of the five sentences con- 
stituting the central paragraph of the chapter. 

Throughout this unusually elaborate composition— which includes twenty 
human figures as well as a horse and a fairly elaborate landscape setting— Li 
Kung-lin's attention to nuances of figural gesture, expression, and interaction is 
remarkable. Especially in the foreground groups, where he depicts the human 
encounters and interactions he so delights in, we see a wide range of types, ages, 
and personalities, vividly portrayed with warmth and sensitivity. In the expres- 
sion and bearing of the young boy who looks up at the venerable teacher, in the 
two friends who bow in greeting, and especially in the portraitlike group of 
three figures at the lower right, there would seem to be embodied memories of 
the actual people to whom his painting must be dedicated. 

What seems most noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that the composition has no 
traditional structure. That is, we cannot read it hieratically, or for its order or its 
symbolic message. Except, of course, that being without such order, it assumes a 
quite specific meaning. The elements of the composition are random, spread 
across the silk almost like chance encounters and connected somehow by the 
universal influence of filial piety, which is like the stream that wanders through, 
joining this to the preceding illustration. We are reminded of the lesson of Li 
Kung-lin's Imperial Horses at Pasture, that only the absence of overt control allows 
attainment of the natural Way. Principles are in operation, but they are unseen 
and unobtrusive. 




Filial Piety in Government 

The Master said, "In former times, when the intelligent kings by means of filial piety 
ruled all under heaven, they did not dare to receive with disrespect the ministers even 
of small states. How much less would they have dared with dukes, marquises, counts, 
and barons! Thus it was that they got the myriad states to serve with joyful hearts 
their royal ancestors. 

"The rulers of states did not dare to slight wifeless men and widows. How much less 
would they slight their officers and subjects! Thus it was that they got all the people 
to serve with joyful hearts the rulers, their predecessors. 

"The heads of clans did not dare to slight their servants and concubines. How much 
less would they slight their wives and sons! Thus it was that they got the men in the 
service of their parents with joyful hearts. 

"In such a state of things, the parents, while alive, reposed in their songs; and when 
sacrificed to, their disembodied spirits enjoyed the offerings made to them. Thus, ev- 
erywhere under heaven, peace and harmony prevailed; disaster and calamities did not 
occur; misfortunes and rebellions did not arise. It is said in the Book of Songs: 

To upright and virtuous conduct 
In all the four quarters of the state, 
render obedient homage. "^^ 

It is interesting that Li Kung-iin, with his dislike of coercion, force, and the 
abuses of power, chose to illustrate the passage about the unwillingness of rulers 
to slight widows and widowers, let alone their officers and subjects (pi. 5). 
Apparently he recalled, or invented, a symbolic occasion at which the emperor 
displayed his attentiveness to the common people by greeting a delegation from 
their ranks before his majestic palace. In front of him, then, in this imaginary 
ritual, are three stooped widows, two elderly widowers, and two children who 
must be orphans. Watched ominously by armed bailiffs, they are paraded before 
the emperor, who will most likely bestow some blessing or reward upon them. 
Arrayed beside and behind the ruler are his keen-eyed and attentive corps of 
elite officials, who look intently upon the ritual ceremony enacted before them. 

The painter again isolates the common people from the majesty and power of the 
small minority who rule their every action. Especially telling is the young offi- 
cial to the ruler's left, who stands with a whip coiled at the ready over his 

As we have seen him do before, Li deliberately chooses to show us the common 
people as they are herded and paraded, guarded against, looked upon with fear. 


Classic of Filial Piety 




and kept at a distance from those who hold power. He did not have to illustrate 
such a confrontation; many other options were available to him. But he chooses 
once again to comment on the life of his own time by showing us the lives of 
those people made helpless in the face of power. 




The Government of the Sages 

Tseng-tzu said, "I venture to ask whether in the virtues of the sages there was not 

something greater than filial piety." The Master replied, "Of all the living natures 

produced by heaven and earth, man is the noblest. Of all the actions of man, there is none 

greater than filial piety. In filial piety there is nothing greater than the reverential awe of 

one's father. In the reverential awe shown to one's father there is nothing greater than 

making him the companion of heaven. The duke ofChou was the man who first did this. 

Formerly, at the border altar, the duke of Chou sacrificed to Hou-chi as the companion of 

heaven, and in the Bright Hall he honored King Wen, and sacrificed to him as the 

companion of God. As a consequence, all of the princes within the Four Seas came to offer 

assistance in the performance of the sacrifices. In the virtue of the sages, what is there 

greater than filial piety? Now, the feelings of affection grow at the parents' knees, and as 

the nourishing of the parents is practiced those affections merge into awe. The sages 

proceeded from awe to reverence, and from affection to love. The teachings of the sages, 

without being severe, were successful, and their government, without being rigorous, was 

effective. What they proceeded from was the root of filial piety. The relationship and duties 

between father and son are of heaven-sent nature, and hold the principle of righteousness 

between ruler and subject. The son derives his life from his parents, and no greater gift 

can be transmitted. Ruler and parent in one, his father deals with him accordingly, and 

there is no generosity greater than this. Therefore, he who does not love his parents, but 

instead loves other men, is called a rebel against virtue. He who does not revere his 

parents, but reveres instead other men, is called a rebel against propriety. When a ruler 

himself thus acts contrary to that which should place him in accord with all men, he 

presents nothing for the people to imitate. He has nothing to do with what is good, but 

entirely and only with what is injurious to virtue. Though he may succeed, the superior 

man does not give him approval. It is not so with the superior man. He speaks, having 

thought whether the words should be spoken; he acts, having thought whether his actions 

are certain to give pleasure. His virtue and righteousness are such as will be honored; what 

he initiates and carries out is fit to be imitated; his deportment is worthy of contemplation; 

his movements in advancing or retiring are all according to the proper rule. In this way 

does he present himself to the people, who both revere and love him, imitate and become 

like him. Thus he is able to make his teaching of virtue successful, and his government and 

orders to be carried into effect. It is said in the Book of Songs: 

The virtuous man, the princely one, Overleaf 

Plate 6. Li Kung-lin, chapter 9 

Has no flaw in his deportment. "^^ of the Classic of Filial Piety 






/I c 






iJii-i-l- ."mI:I 



This unusually long chapter propounds the argument that within the operation 
of the ideal of filial piety, which is the supreme action of mankind, the ultimate 
possibility is to elevate the object of one's reverential, filial awe to the position of 
companion, coadjutor, or correlate (p'ei) of heaven. According to Confucian 
tradition, the creator of this practice was the duke of Chou, who first offered 
sacrifice to Hou-chi, and thus made him companion to heaven. Hou-chi was the 
original ancestor of the Chou rulers, and also the mythical inventor of agricul- 
ture. By elevating his ancestor to the position of a companion of God, the duke 
of Chou made his ancestor into the equivalent of a god. It is clear that the 
sponsors of the original text wished all of those who served them to elevate them 
to the position of a god through ceaseless, selfless service and sacrifice. 

Whatever his view of this argument may have been, Li Kung-lin chose to illus- 
trate the sacrifice to Hou-chi by the duke of Chou. Imperial sacrifice was a 
continuing issue, even in Li Kung-lin's time, and the nature and point of the 
sacrifice were always being debated. It is impossible to know, however, the 
reaction to this particular illustration by proponents of the various points of view 
discussed at the time. 

The text of the Classic of Filial Piety was the product of several very different ages 
and political systems. Certainly it was not written by Confucius but constructed 
by members of successive systems of self-interest to serve their own purposes. 
The first six chapters were evidently written during a period when the heredi- 
tary aristocracy vigorously controlled Chinese society and could still promote a 
fictitious text with sufficient authority to ensure its acceptance. What they pro- 
moted, of course, was the view that members of the hereditary aristocracy were 
the natural, heaven-mandated rulers of the world and that all others had their 
respective inferior places within this well-ordered society. The later chapters, 
however, were added by later interest-systems, in an attempt to validate other 
priorities. By the time chapter 9 was somehow added to the first six chapters and 
whatever else may have been appended to them then (and it is impossible at 
present to know how the entire text was put together and over what expanse of 
time), the purpose was simply to perpetuate the social structure that kept the 
mass of the population in a state of happy servitude, so eager to serve their 
masters that they could take it on faith that their supreme goal in life was to 
elevate to the position of a god their own supreme ancestors by never ceasing to 
serve them, even long after their deaths. 

In the illustration (pi. 6), the duke of Chou is shown at the top of a long stairway 
on the southern altar, bowing before a table on which are placed several ritual 
objects. With the duke are five attendants. At the right and left, two musicians 
kneel before their bells. Two fires burn in pots behind the table, and other pots 
are placed around the mound-shaped altar. In the sky are cosmic symbols. And 
around the altar are arrayed the princes of state who have come to assist in the 
sacrifice, flag-bearing soldiers, and a group of non-Chinese worshipers. 



The story of Hou-chi's miraculous birth and life is the subject of a long poem in 
the Classic of Poetry. Another ode, one of the sacrificial chants of the Chou state, 
records the words to be spoken at the sacrifice, the scene that is illustrated: 

Mighty are you, Houji, 

Full partner in heaven's power. 

That we, the thronging peoples, 

were raised up is all your doing. 
You gave us wheat and barley 
In obedience to God's command. 
Not to this limit only or to that frontier. 
But near, far, and forever throughout 

these lands of Hsia.^^^ 

Li Kung-lin's conception of the border altar is a primitive one. The mound seems 
to be no more than piled earth, against which a long flight of stairs has been 
constructed; a single table with a few plain implements suffices for the ritual. 
Whatever the contemporary concerns and implications of imperial sacrifice may 
have been— and the one certainty is that these were highly charged, vitally 
important political issues— what Li seems to be asserting is a spirit of sacrifice 
from a time and a place long past. A pile of dirt and a few stepladders were 
already far removed from the altars of the Sung dynasty, which probably more 
closely resembled the present-day Temple and Altar of Heaven in Beijing. As in 
so much that he did, the artist appears to be rejecting the corrupt, dubious 
present in favor of a simpler, more honest, less complicated, and more attractive 
mythical past. Li's almost mystical belief in his own personal understanding of 
that remote past is a touching element in his biography, and is surely lodged as 
well in these illustrations of a nonexistent world. 




An Orderly Description of the Acts of Filial Piety 

The Master said, "The service which a son renders to his parents is as follows. In his 
general conduct toward them he manifests the utmost reverence. In his nourishing of 
them, his endeavor is to give them the utmost pleasure. When they are ill, he feels the 
greatest anxiety. In mourning for them, he exhibits every manifestation of grief. In 
sacrificing to them, he displays the utmost solemnity. When a son is complete in these 
five things, he is able to serve his parents. He who thus serves his parents, in a high 
situation, will he free from pride; in a low situation, will be free from insubordination; 
and, among his equals, will not be quarrelsome. In a high situation pride leads to ruin; 
in a low situation insubordination leads to punishment; among equals quarrelsomeness 
leads to the wielding of weapons. If those three things be not put away, even though a 
son every day contribute beef, mutton, and pork to nourish his parents, he is not 
filial." 55 

Li Kung-lin in chapter lo illustrates the sentence "In his nourishing of them, his 
endeavor is to give them the utmost pleasure" (pi. 7). Seated in armchairs on a 
raised platform, an elderly couple watches the entertainment that has been pre- 
pared for them by their children. The entertainers consist of a magician, a 
woman — perhaps the magician's wife— who accompanies him on a drum, and a 
dancer. Between them are seated the two young grandchildren of the old couple. 
From the right, their son and daughter-in-law approach, bearing trays of refresh- 
ment. The attention of the adults, however, is fixed on the tiny bird that flies 
from the cone held out by the magician. The grandmother appears to have 
started in surprise, her mouth slightly open in a faintly alarmed gasp. The more 
phlegmatic grandfather smiles gently. Their son and his wife, momentarily for- 
getting the trays they carry, watch the entertainment as well. The young grand- 
children, seated with the entertainers, are also caught up in the excitement: the 
girl, seated to the left, holds tightly to the hand of her bare-bottomed baby 
brother and leans intently toward the drummer. 

The entire scene is characterized by a wonderful warmth and intimacy, an inti- 
macy reflected in the composition, a loose circle around which the figures are 
arrayed. Two vases of flowering plants placed in the center of the circle provide a 
superb touch of artistry. The plants are a study in contrast. In the larger, heavier 
arrangement to the left, the flowers and leaves are done entirely in outline. In 
the elegant, slender group to the right, each leaf is rendered in a soft, sure 
impression of the full brush tip. But, as always, it is in the characterization of the 
figures that Li is most persuasive. The gentleness with which the old couple is 



portrayed and their obvious pleasure at the entertainment provided by their 
children speak more clearly than could any words of the spirit of filial piety and 
its ideal purpose. 

A possible iconographic parallel to Li's illustration might be found in the popular 
story of one of the paragons of filial piety, Lao Lai-tzu. As a middle-aged man, 
Lao played the role of a young boy — dressing like a child and pretending to trip 
and fall down— so that his parents would not realize they were growing old. 
Presumably, Li's illustration evoked echoes of Lao and his childlike 
entertainments. 36 






Filial Piety in Relation to the Five Punishments 

The Master said, "There are three thousand offenses against which the five -punish- 
ments are directed, and there is not one of them greater than being unfilial. When 
constraint is put upon a ruler, that is the disowning of his superiority. When the au- 
thority of the sages is disallowed, that is the disowning of law. When filial piety is 
put aside, that is the disowning of the principle of affection. This paves the way to 
anarchy. "^7 

The illustration for this chapter is out of place. It would seem that Li Kung-lin 
mistakenly reversed the positions of the illustrations for chapters ii and 14, so 
that his depiction of chapter 14 appears with the text of chapter 11 and vice 
versa. In the illustration of the impartial operation of justice and punishment 
(pi. 11), a magistrate sits at a small table on the raised open porch of an official 
building, judging a criminal case. Three officials stand behind him, and a 
fourth, to the left, holds a scroll on which, presumably, the particulars of the 
case being heard are written. Immediately below, it appears that two men and a 
woman are presenting testimony on the crime for which one or more of them is 
being tried. A fourth man, evidently distraught, is closely restrained by two 
constables. A vehement argument is taking place. 

In the lower right, meanwhile, the guilty parties in the previous case are being 
led away by two other constables or bailiffs. The man is pilloried, his wrists 
manacled, and he is pulled at roughly by a tall, stick-bearing constable. Behind 
him, his wife is treated only slightly less severely. A constable pulls her along by 
the hair with his right hand, while in his left hand he holds a coiled whip. She 
wrings her hands in distress. The artist makes no effort to gloss over the un- 
pleasantness of the situation. 

Compositionally, this is among the more interesting and ambiguous of the illus- 
trations. Dividing the fifteen figures into three groups and distributing them 
fairly widely over the picture plane, Li avoids the impression of an overwhelm- 
ing force acting against specific individuals. Authority is typically shown in an 
elevated position in Li's compositions, as is the local magistrate here. Only three 
assistants stand behind him, however, and the four constables below are busy 
with their duties. One hearing has concluded, and another is well under way. 
The composition, in other words, creates in an orderly and impartial manner the 
impression of an ongoing process. The natural functioning of justice is thus 
depicted as unmediated and inevitable, the legal system in its ideal condition. 

What is especially interesting about this relationship between subject, composi- 
tion, and probable meaning is its very close similarity to another key chapter of 
the text, chapter 15 (pi. 12), which focuses on the necessity for honest, unhin- 



Figure 45. Chin Ch'u-shih (late 12th 
century), "The Fifth King, Yama," from 
Ten Kings of Hell, before 1195. One of a 
set of ten hanging scrolls, ink and color 
on silk, 44X18^/4 in. (111.8x47.6 cm). 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
New York. Rogers Fund, 1930 (30.76.293' 

dered remonstrance in the functioning of imperial society. Just criticism and just 
punishment would thus seem to be two of Li Kung-lin's essential prescriptions 
for a humane state based on the principles of filiality. 

Li's duties as a local official would certainly have provided for him a rich experi- 
ence in precisely such activities as are taking place in his illustration. No doubt, 
he sat more than once in the position of the presiding magistrate and dispensed 
local justice. We may presume that here, as elsewhere, he was reflecting upon 
the experiences of his own life as he sought to give contemporary shape to the 
words of an ancient text. 

In Li's time, there was current a very vivid imagery of criminal trials, one Li 
certainly knew very well. Paintings of the Ten Kings of Hell (fig. 45) functioned 
at the popular level to instruct the people in the punishments that awaited 
criminals in the next world. 38 Compared with such violent and bloody scenes of 
terror, Li's criminal hearing epitomizes restraint and humaneness in the admin- 
istration of justice. 


Plate 8. Li Kung-lin, chapter ii 
of the Classic of Filial Piety 



The fact that the illustration for this chapter is out of place may suggest certain 
assumptions about the making of the scroll. What evidently happened is that the 
artist first made all the paintings, beginning with the illustration for chapter i 
and proceeding with the following illustrations one by one. He did this quite 
spontaneously, almost as if he were making a series of sketches for paintings. On 
both sides of each picture he drew in double or triple lines, like a simple frame, 
leaving room to the left for the text. It is clear that the texts were not written 
while the paintings were being done, because there is very little correspondence 
between the length of the text and the width of the space left for it. Only after the 
paintings were finished, therefore, did Li write in the text beside each illustra- 
tion. Apparently, even though, like every schoolboy in China, he had memo- 
rized the entire text, he seems to have mistakenly reversed the illustrations for 
chapters ii and 14. Later, when he inscribed the texts, he simply corrected his 
mistake by writing the appropriate, correct text beside each picture. That he left 
them reversed, without any note or other indication that he had done so (the 
original silk is so damaged and broken that, in fact, we cannot be quite certain 
that there was never such a notation), may further support the view that this was 
not the finished version, or form, of the painting. That is, Li may have believed 
that another painting— or printed reproduction— was going to replace this one 
and that his mistake would easily be corrected at the next stage. 




Amplification of 'The All-Embracing Rule of Conduct'' 
in Chapter i 

The Master said, "For teaching the people to be affectionate and loving there is nothing 
better than filial piety. For teaching them propriety and submissiveness there is nothing 
better than fraternal duty. For changing their manners and altering their customs there 
is nothing better than music. For securing the repose of superiors and the good order of 
the people there is nothing better than propriety. Propriety is simply respect. Therefore, 
the respect paid to one's father pleases all sons; the respect paid to one's elder brother 
pleases all younger sons; the respect paid to one's ruler pleases all subjects. The respect 
paid to one man pleases thousands and myriads of men. The respect is paid to a few and 
the pleasure extends to many— this is what is meant by the Essential Way. "^9 

Once again, Li Kung-lin surprises us with his choice of subject. For chapter 12, 
on the "Essential Way" (yao-tao), two men so close in age and in appearance they 
can only be brothers are depicted in a garden setting (pi. 9). The younger of the 
two bows deeply to his older brother, who slowly returns the gesture of respect. 
Two younger friends or disciples stand behind the older of the brothers. Beyond 
them geese and reeds are seen on an island in a pond, while the two main figures 
are echoed by a dramatic Lake T'ai garden rock with bamboo growing thickly 
behind it. There is in the painting a vivid sense of contemporary life, and there 
can be little doubt that Li is conveying his thoughts in the form of representa- 
tions of people of his own time. 

The two most famous brothers in Li's lifetime were Su Shih (1037-1101) and Su 
Ch'e (1039-1112), both of whom were close friends of the painter. Portraits of Su 
Shih and other informal representations of him by members of Li Kung-lin's circle 
(fig. 46) make clear that he is the subject of this illustration. 40 A large, big-boned, 
rather heavy man, Su Shih had a strong, handsome face; his brother, Su Ch'e, 
resembled him and was two years younger. The prominence given to the garden 
setting, the geese and reeds, and the rock and bamboo supports the contempo- 
rary reference, since ink bamboo was a new subject in painting and one particu- 
larly associated with Su Shih and his cousin Wen T'ung. The two of them 
virtually invented the subject of ink bamboo painting, which would thereafter be 
associated specifically with scholar-painters. That Li Kung-lin, the classicist, 
includes it prominently and with pointed symbolism in his illustration suggests 
the fresh, living spirit of contemporary life that he brought to all his work. 

Possibly related to these observations is the fact that— though no longer extant— 
the only recorded contemporary colophon to the Classic of Filial Piety was written 
by Su Shih; it is included in his collected works. 41 Su does not say that he noticed 





Figure 46. Ch'iao Chung-ch'ang 
(early 12th century), detail from 
Su Shih's Second Ode on the Red 
Cliff. Handscroll, ink on paper, 
11^/8X220^/8 in. (29.5X560.4 cm). 
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of 
Art, Kansas City, Missouri. 
Nelson Gallery Foundation 

himself among the numerous figures in the scroll, but we may nonetheless sus- 
pect with good reason that he did recognize himself there, just as Li's other 
contemporaries undoubtedly saw other people and other references to contem- 
porary events and personalities that are now too remote to be understood. It 
should be assumed, as we have suggested, that when the artist painted a father 
he had in mind his own father, as well as other fathers he knew; that his minis- 
ters reflected ministers who passed before his eyes; that brothers recalled broth- 
ers numbered among his friends; that mothers or sisters somehow embodied his 
own; and that in his compositions people high and low were representations, 
however indirect, of the men and women of Sung China around the year 1085. 

Figure 47. Attributed to Su Shih 
(1037-1101), detail from Old Tree, 
Bamboo, and Rock. Handscroll, 
ink on paper, 9V4 x 20 in. (23.4 x 
50.9 cm). Shanghai Museum 



A painting by, or attributed to, Su Shih of bamboo in a garden setting of the type 
seen in Li's painting (fig. 47) suggests the kind of image associated with Su Shih 
that Li's contemporaries surely would have had in mind when they studied his 
illustrations. The graphic projection of the great Sung poet, painter, and cal- 
ligrapher is one of symbiosis— bamboo, rock, and tree— and echoes brightly in 
Li's picture. Moreover, the symbiosis of painted motifs parallels the symbiosis of 
brotherly love and respect that is at the heart of Li's composition. 

There are records of earlier paintings in which contemporary personalities were 
seen in depictions of philosophical or religious subjects. Certainly it is signifi- 
cant that Li's good friend and rival Mi Fu was fond of thinking that he had 
occasionally discovered such loosely disguised portraits — quite possibly be- 
cause he was fully aware of what his friend Li was doing in his own paintings of 
classical subjects. 4^ It is also significant that, by the late twelfth century, even 
professional painters, such as Chou Chi-ch'ang and Lin T'ing-kuei, commonly 
included actual portraits of living people in their religious icons, since they were 
in other important ways followers of Li. 43 It thus seems highly likely that Li was 
among the first Chinese painters to present philosophical, religious, and classic 
texts through the personae of living contemporaries whose lives embodied the 
ideals celebrated and recounted in the texts. This is a stage in the evolution of 
Chinese narrative painting vaguely similar to Benjamin West's depiction of such 
heroic events as Wolfe's death with figures in contemporary costume rather than 
in the clothing of ancient Greece and Rome. 44 




Amplification of "The Perfect Virtue'' in Chapter 1 

The Master said, "The teaching of filial piety by the superior man does not require 
that he should go to family after family, and daily see the members of each. His teach- 
ing of filial piety is a tribute of reverence to all the fathers under heaven. His teaching 
of fraternal submission is a tribute of reverence to all the elder brothers under heaven. 
His teaching of the duty of a subject is a tribute of reverence to all the rulers under 
heaven. It is said in the Book of Songs: 

The happy and courteous sovereign 
Is the parent of the people. 

"If it were not a perfect virtue, how could it be recognized as in accordance with their 
nature by the people so extensively as this? "45 

The first part of the passage that constitutes chapter 13 is annotated by the T'ang 
emperor Hsiian-tsung: "He merely practices fiHal piety within his home, and the 
transforming power of his example will of itself be extended abroad. "46 

Li Kung-lin centers his illustration on the father, seated in an armchair before a 
great landscape screen (pi. 10). He is surrounded by the members of his family— 
in all probability, two sons, two daughters, and a brother— and four servants. In 
the foreground, two men carry in a mesh-covered table to set before him and a 
maidservant brings a tray of food. The table is evidently heavy, for the servant 
turned toward the viewer grimaces at the effort. Another maidservant appears 
from behind the screen at the left carrying a large container, perhaps of wine, 
and she, too, shows the exertion of bearing its weight. The father speaks to a 
stooped, older man, presumably his uncle. Behind the older man, standing at 
the right against the screen and listening, is a woman, the daughter or daughter- 
in-law of the central figure. On the opposite side stand the two sons, the younger 
of whom is going to address his father. Behind them is another woman, probably 
a second sister. She and her elder brother both look affectionately at the younger 
brother, who prepares to speak. All the figures thus converge on the father, 
seated in the center. 

The fourth and last of the intimate family scenes that Li offers in this set of 
eighteen chapters, the illustration for chapter 13 focuses closely on the father as 
the central and symbolic perpetuator and recipient of the network of filial piety 
as it was practiced within the extended family. As in Ku K'ai-chih's portrayal of 
an extended family seven hundred years earlier (fig. 43), the oldest living male 
takes a position inferior to the current father. Ku K'ai-chih put that figure in the 
rear, teaching a grandchild how to read, while the prevailing male figurehead 
sits prominently at the front. Here, the older man defers to the seated father. 



who is literally king in his own home. The parallel, socially, politically, and 
economically, between father and emperor is drawn again and again both in the 
text and in the illustrations. The four women shown here serve, needless to say, 
in even more subsidiary roles; they are literally at the edges, behind the various 
generations and ranks of men. 

Nonetheless, we must not fail to note the truly unusual nature of these intimate 
depictions of family life. It is nearly impossible to find elsewhere in early Chi- 
nese art other family vignettes in which men and women interact so closely and 
privately as they do in these paintings. Ku K'ai-chih's Admonitions scroll is an 
important exception, and this is another way in which Li connects himself and 
his art to the earlier master. 





Amplification of "Making Our Name Famous'' in Chapter 1 

The Master said, "The filial piety with which the superior man serves his parents may 
be transferred as loyalty to the ruler. The fraternal duty with which he serves the eldest 
brother may be transferred as submissive deference to elders. His regulation of his fam- 
ily may be transferred as good government in any official position. Therefore, when his 
conduct is thus successful in his inner circle, his name will be established for future 
generations. "47 

As noted in the discussion for chapter 11, the illustrations for chapters 11 and 14 
are reversed. The illustration for this chapter (pi. 8) follows the passage "His 
regulation of his family may be transferred as good government in any official 
position." An official on horseback is seen approaching the gate of a government 
compound, where he will take up the duties of a new position; his servant walks 
ahead. The rider is greeted by a tough-looking, but smiling, local functionary. A 
second man unlocks the gate. 

Within the oddly personal world he constructs in his art, Li Kung-lin obviously 
held in highest esteem those men of his own scholar-bureaucrat class. Here, as 
elsewhere in the Classic of Filial Piety whenever he focuses on them, he portrays 
them as the essential foundation of a humane society. In that same world, just as 
clearly, those who wield power are often villains and the common people are 
typically victims. Li does not seem to have held those close to the throne in 
esteem. They seem, instead, to epitomize the excesses to which even minor 
functionaries who hold power succumb: put a whip in a man's hand, and all 
others become a threat to him. 

From the Sung period on, the common practice for officials of all ranks was a 
change of post every three years and no assignment of a post in the home region. 
The reason for this practice was simply the avoidance of entanglements caused 
either by too long a residence in one place or by favoritism toward family, 
friends, and neighbors. Kuan-hsi, or the special favors granted through personal 
relationship, has been one of the traditional vices of Chinese society, as it still is 
today. Regular changing of assignments theoretically helped to prevent such 
alliances from forming and also allowed a variety of experiences to contribute to 
the education, maturity, and wisdom of the individual official. It was literally 
upon the decency of those thousands of government officials, moving every 
three years to a new post in a new region, that the decency of government in 
traditional China depended. 

Like all the others of his class, Li himself had experienced the life of an itinerant 
official, going from post to post at regular two- or three-year intervals. He had 
undoubtedly been greeted many times by local clerks and runners like the ones 
depicted here. He does not seem to glamorize the experience; another town, he 
may be remembering, another job. 




Filial Piety in Relation to Reproof and Remonstrance 

Tseng-tzu said: "I have heard your instructions on the affection of love, on respect and 
reverence, on giving repose to our parents, and on making our names famous. I would 
venture to ask if simple obedience to the orders of one's father can be pronounced filial 
piety?" The Master replied: "What words are these! What words are these! In former 
times, if the Son of Heaven had seven ministers who would remonstrate with him, al- 
though he had not right methods of government, he would not lose possession of his 
kingdom; if the prince of a state had five such ministers, though his measures might be 
equally wrong, he would not lose his state; if a great officer had three, he would not, 
in a similar case, lose his clan; if an inferior officer had a friend who would remon- 
strate with him, a good name would not cease to be connected with his character; and 
the father who had a son that would remonstrate with him would not sink into the gulf 
of unrighteous deeds. Therefore, where a case of unrighteous conduct is concerned, a 
son must by no means keep from remonstrating with his father, nor a minister from 
remonstrating with his ruler. Hence, since remonstrance is required in the case of 
unrighteous conduct, how can simple obedience to the order of a father be accounted 
filial piety? ""i^ 

Another of the key elements in the social, political, and moral structure of 
filiality that Li Kung-lin visualized for us in his scroll is the subject of this 
chapter: reproof, remonstrance, and open, honest criticism. The concept is es- 
sential to the entire structure of filiality, since without its constant presence and 
living spirit the nature of government and of social order becomes purely total- 
itarian. The long passage discussing this is of fundamental importance to the 
entire text. 

In Li's illustration for this chapter he chose the figure of the "great officer" to 
represent authority (pi. 12). Following the text quite literally, he shows the 
officer attended by three officials, one of whom remonstrates with him. The 
composition is open and relatively unthreatening, and the presence of the great 
officer's wife and two female attendants behind him further civilizes and softens 
the confrontation. The composition is very much like the compositions that 
illustrate the five punishments and the several domestic settings of family 
gatherings. There is little difference between the great officer and his officials. 
All four men dress alike and appear more like brothers than superior and in- 
feriors. The picture says to us that great leaders depend upon the frankness of 
their officers; honest remonstration is a fundamental requirement of 

It was, of course, men of Li's class who were placed in the position of remonstra- 
tor and critic of public policy. In his time, this was a difficult responsibility. 







especially because of the uncertainties of political favor. Two powerful factions 
that vied for control of the throne could never be quite certain which of them 
would prevail in a given year, and those out of favor were often demoted, ban- 
ished, or exiled. Li was not especially courageous in the sphere of political 
infighting, and surely he would have wished for the kind of tolerant, and basi- 
cally benevolent, forum he creates for us here. In fact, however, even during the 
humane and enlightened Sung period, it probably did not exist. 

Nearly every one of Li's most intimate friends experienced demotion, imprison- 
ment, banishment, or exile — often repeatedly— during the politically troubled 
and deeply factionalized years of his lifetime. Some died in exile. The toll on 
human life was heavy, and the actual results of honest remonstrance were more 
likely to be painful than rewarding. Li probably saw this system in operation 
every day of his official life, yet he chose to illustrate this chapter on re- 
monstrance as if the ideal were attainable. Perhaps — though the day-to-day real- 
ity was generally far from perfection— it was that continued belief which allowed 
the Sung dynasty finally to appear to be honest, humane, and decent in compari- 
son with every other dynasty in Chinese history. 




The Influence of Filial Piety and the Response to It 

The Master said, "In former times, the intelligent kings served their fathers with filial 
piety, and therefore they served earth with discrimination. They pursued the right 
course with reference to their seniors and juniors, and therefore they secured the 
regulation of the relations between superiors and inferiors everywhere. When heaven 
and earth were served with intelligence and discrimination, their spiritual intelligences 
displayed themselves. Therefore, even the Son of Heaven must have some whom he 
honors; that is, he has his uncles of his surname. He must have some to whom he con- 
cedes precedence; that is, he has his cousins, who hear the same surname, and are 
older than himself. In the ancestral temple he manifests the utmost reverence, showing 
that he does not forget his parents. He cultivates his person and is careful of his con- 
duct, fearing lest he should disgrace his predecessors. When in the ancestral temple he 
exhibits the utmost reverence, the spirits of the departed manifest themselves. Perfect 
filial piety and fraternal duty reach to the spiritual intelligences, and diffuse their 
light on all within the Four Seas. They penetrate everywhere. It is said in the Book 
of Songs: 

From the west to the east, 

From the south to the north. 

There was not a thought but did him homage. "-^9 

It is, as always, interesting to see which passage Li Kung-lin chose to illustrate. 
The element of choice was a crucial factor in conveying the artist's concerns and 
intentions, because in most cases he selected his focus from a broad range of 
possibilities. In the long chapter above, for example, one can imagine any num- 
ber of possible choices. Li chose the brief passage that begins, "In the ancestral 
temple he manifests the utmost reverence, showing that he does not forget his 
parents" (pi. 13). 

The sacrificial rituals performed by the emperor ensured the welfare of his state 
and the continuance of his mandate. In addition to the ritual sacrifices to heaven 
and earth performed on the winter solstice, which Li had illustrated in his 
painting for chapter 9, the emperor also regularly sacrificed to his ancestors, a 
ritual that symbolized the national cult of ancestor worship. Imperial sacrifices 
to the ancestors took place in a ritual hall called the Ming T'ang, or Bright Hall, a 
traditional place of imperial prerogative described in the ancient books and built 
anew for every ruling house. It is the setting for Li's illustration. 5° 

The Son of Heaven, the principal sacrificer, stands just outside the sacrificial 
altar to the east. Opposite is his wife. The officer of prayer, the young man who 
kneels near the entrance to the stagelike altar, sacrifices just inside the temple 





gate. According to a commentary to the Classic of Poetry, "The filial son does not 
know where the spirits are, and therefore sends the officer of prayer to seek them 
inside the entrance while he waits outside." To attract the spirits, the kneeling 
officer pours fragrant wine into libation cups. Lining the altar are the ancestral 
tablets, while outside are the prepared offerings. After the officer of prayer has 
communicated with the ancestral spirits, he goes to the principal sacrificer to 
report: "Fragrant has been your filial sacrifice. And the spirits have enjoyed your 
spirits and viands. They confer on you a hundred blessings, each as it is de- 
sired." The ritual concluded, "The bells and drums give their warning," and the 
officer of prayer announces, "The spirits have drunk to the full!"5i xhe spirits of 
the dead then depart to the music of the bells and drums, and the service is 
concluded. A banquet for the participants follows. 

Here, the composition is symmetrical and hierarchical. It proceeds from the 
stairs below, past the musicians to the principal sacrificer and his consort, up to 
the altar proper, where the officer of prayer kneels, and to the ancestral tablets, 
which are arranged like the composition as a whole, in lines converging toward 
the central tablet. This approximation of Western perspective is a common fea- 
ture of early Chinese painting in depictions of religious subjects. The symmetry 
of this form perhaps suggested the systematic ritual disposition of the solemn 
act depicted. It is the Chinese state in miniature. 



The Service of the Ruler 

The Master said, "The superior man serves his ruler in such a way that, when at 

court in his presence, his thought is how to discharge his loyal duty to the utmost; 

and, when he retires from it, his thought is how to amend his errors. He carries out 

with deference the measures springing from his ruler's excellent qualities, and rectifies 

him only to preserve him from what is evil. Hence, as superior and inferior they are 

able to have affection for one another. It is said in the Book of Songs: 

In my heart I love him so. 
And why should I not say so? 
In the core of my heart I keep him. 
And never will forget him."^^ 

Li Kung-lin chose to illustrate the first sentence of chapter 17. In the lower 
portion of the illustration (pi. 14), a man is seated on a veranda beneath a willow 
tree. His hands folded in his lap, he gazes off into space. Above him is a cloud of 
mist that cuts the composition into two parts and above which the same man 
stands before his prince, who is seated on a couch listening to him. The intent is 
clearly to indicate by the cloud, in a manner common to Buddhist art, two realms 
of existence. Above is the world of the mind, below the world of the body or, in 
Confucian terms, above is the active realm and below it the contemplative. The 
man is sitting in retirement from his duties at court, considering "how to amend 
his errors" when he returns. He imagines himself approaching his sovereign 
with new plans and new ideas, as he will do when he returns to service. 

It is likely that Li was engaged in some degree of wishful thinking when he 
painted this image. He himself was evidently quite content to absent himself 
from public duty, as we know from his long avoidance of official service and his 
early retirement. He was intelligent, talented, and extremely learned, and his 
interests lay in the sphere of the mind, in learning and the creative imagination. 
His twenty years of reluctant and undistinguished governmental service must 
have been necessitated by financial considerations, and the life he actively 
wished for himself is probably most clearly suggested in his famed composition 
that depicts his country retreat, the Lung-mien Mountain Villa (see figs. 6-8). 
Probably in 1085, when he painted the Classic of Filial Piety, he imagined himself 
sitting by a garden on a willow-shaded veranda. Indeed, the details of the pic- 
ture that occupy him most are the willow, the clouds, and the garden rock, filling 
the center of the composition. Each wisp of cloud, each precise, delicate willow 
leaf engaged his hand and mind like elements in a dream of his retirement from 
official life that he was creating for himself. 






Filial Piety in Mourning for Parents 

The Master said, "When a filial son is mourning for a parent, he wails, but not with a 
prolonged sobbing; in the movements of ceremony, he pays no attention to his appear- 
ance; his words are without elegance of phrase; he cannot bear to wear fine clothes; 
when he hears music, he feels no delight; when he eats a delicacy, he is not conscious 
of its flavor. Such is the nature of grief and sorrow. 

"After three days, he may partake of food; for thus the people are taught that the living 
should not be injured on account of the dead, and that emaciation must not be carried 
to the extinction of life. Such is the rule of the sages. The period of mourning does not 
extend beyond three years, to show the people that it must have an end. 

"An inner and an outer coffin are made; the grave clothes also are put on, and the 
shroud; and the body is lifted into the coffin. The sacrificial vessels, round and square, 
are set forth, and cause further distress. The women beat their breasts, and the men 
stamp their feet, wailing and weeping, while they sorrowfully escort the coffin to the 
grave. They consult the tortoiseshell to determine the grave and the ground about it, 
and they lay the body in peace. They prepare the ancestral temple, and there present 
offerings to the disembodied spirit. In the spring and autumn they offer sacrifices, 
thinking of the deceased as the seasons come round. 

"The services of love and reverence to parents when alive, and those of grief and sor- 
row when they are dead— these completely discharge the fundamental duty of living 
men. The righteous claims of life and death are all satisfied, and the filial son's service 
to his parents is completed ." 53 

Instead of choosing to depict a scene of mourning or burial or even sacrifice, Li 
Kung-lin creates an image not even suggested in the text (pi. 15). A lone boat 
drifts by mist-shrouded mountains, as if lost in emptiness. Indeed, emptiness is 
the metaphor of the image, the emptiness of loss and of mourning, the empti- 
ness of death's aftermath. 

It is likely that the source for this image was another great classic text, the Book of 
Songs, or the Shih-ching, a text quoted often in the Classic of Filial Piety itself. In 
the Book of Songs is an ancient poem of mourning for one's parents, "The Two of 
You Went Off in a Boat": 

The two of you went off in a boat. 
Floating, floating far away. 
Longingly I think of you; 
My heart within is pained. 



The two of you went off in a boat, 
Floating, floating you sped away. 
Longingly I think of you. 
Oh may you come to no harm! 54 

If the subtle beauty of this reference was lost on some later interpreters of the 
Classic of Filial Piety, it was the one extraordinary achievement that Su Shih, in 
his colophon, chose to praise: 

When we look at these pictures, feelings of warm, loving duty and loyalty 
toward our parents well up within us. The superb brushwork is not inferior to 
that of Ku K'ai-chih and Lu T'an-wei. As for the final chapter, in which all that a 
son finds unbearable is described, the painter conveys these meanings in only 
the faintest suggestion of form. None but a truly superior man possessing the 
Way could achieve his level. 55 

Su Shih was the most distinguished poet of the Sung dynasty and the most 
influential art critic of his time. It is likely, as was noted above, that Li Kung-lin 
included an informal portrait of Su in his illustration for chapter 12. Su's colo- 
phon may have been in part some form of acknowledgment of that fact. Li, in any 
case, painted Su's portrait several other times, and Su was a frequent commenta- 
tor on Li's painting. On another occasion, Su wrote appreciatively about the 
qualities of realism and authenticity in Li's figure painting and about the vivid 
topographical plausibility of his landscape composition the Lung-mien Mountain 
Villa (figs. 6-8). From among the eighteen paintings that constitute the Classic of 
Filial Piety, he singles out the last for particular admiration. The others, he tells 
us, draw from the viewer feelings of loving duty toward one's parents. The final 
image, however, expresses the sadness and pain one feels at their death, commu- 
nicating that deep anguish with only the faintest suggestion of form. According 
to Su, only someone of the loftiest character and knowledge of the Way could 
have conceived of such subtlety. 

What a contemporary commentator writes about a work of art for the people of 
his own time is probably always guarded. But it seems likely that Su Shih was 
suggesting that within Li's images were many profound and important mean- 
ings, that they were subtly and imaginatively conveyed, and that they were the 
product of a superior mind— a mind concerned with morality, justice, and de- 
cency, and capable of seeing an ideal and of informing us of the ways in which 
that ideal was yet far from reality. 


Plate 15. Li Kung-lin, chapter 18 
of the Classic of Filial Piety 



1. The basic translation and annotation of the Classic of Filial Piety in English is James Legge, The 
Hsiao King, in The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism, pt. i (Oxford, 1879). For other 
discussions of filial piety, see Mary Lelia Makra, trans.. The Hsiao Ching, ed. Paul K. T. Sih (New 
York, 1961), especially the preface by Sih; and Richard M. Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching 
T'u: Illustrations of the 'Classic of Filial Piety' " (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1967), pp. 63- 
66. The role of filial piety within Confucian thought and society is discussed most fully in Fung 
Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, trans. Dirk Bodde, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1952-53), vol. 1, 
pp. 357-61- 

2. Lun-yii 1:2; translation from Fung, History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 361. 

3. This passage from the P' ei-wen-chai shu-hua p'u (1708) is cited in Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao 
Ching T'u," p. 66. 

4. The Hsieh Chih version is listed by Chang Yen-yuan in his biography of Hsieh in his Li-tai ming- 
hua chi (reprint, Shanghai, 1963), chiian 5, p. 121. The Liang dynasty copy is recorded in the Sui 
Shu and cited in Wu Ch'eng-shih, Hsiao-ching t'ung-lun (Shanghai, 1934), p. 85. 

5. Since its publication in Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u," Li Kung-lin's Classic of Filial 
Piety has been published many times; for example, Hironobu Kohara, ed., Bunjinga Suihen 
(Tokyo, 1976), vol. 2, pp. 82-83; Kei Suzuki, Chugoku Kaigashi (Tokyo, 1981), vol. 1, pp. 320-21; 
Richard M. Barnhart, Along the Border of Heaven: Sung and Yiian Paintings from the C. C. Wang Family 
Collection (New York, 1983); and Wen C. Fong, Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and 
Calligraphy, Sth-i^-th Century (New York, 1992). 

6. Ku-kung shu-hua lu (Taipei, 1965), vol. 4, chiian 8, p. 31. See also Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao 
Ching T'u," figs. 23-40. 

7. Reproduced in Chung-kuo ku-tai shu-hua t'u-mu (Beijing, 1987), vol. 2, p. 127. 

8. Recorded in Ku-kung shu-hua lu, vol. 4, chiian 6, pp. 164-66. 

9. The former Yen Li-pen version, now in the Liao-ning Provincial Museum, proves not to be 
earlier than the twelfth century in date and unconnected to anything earlier than the Sung 
dynasty. This invalidates the assumptions made in Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u," 
note 110, and removes the most likely link between Li Kung-lin and any known earlier version. 
For a color reproduction, see Chung-kuo mei-shu ch'uan-chi, Hui-hua pien (Beijing, 1988), vol. 4, 
no. 33, pp. 50-51. 

10. Reproduced as a facsimile album; see National Palace Museum, Chao Meng-fu Hsiao-ching t'u- 
chuan (Taipei, 1956). Both the painting and the calligraphy appear to be copies after a lost version 
by Chao Meng-fu. 

11. Kuan Yun-shih, Hsin-k'an ch' uan-hsiang Ch'eng-chai Hsiao-ching chih-chieh (Beijing, 1308; reprint, 
Beijing, 1938). 

12. Recorded in Ku-kung shu-hua lu, vol. 2, chiian 4, pp. 297-98. 

13. The Chin T'ing-piao scroll is recorded in Shih-ch'U pao-chi, hsU-pien {i7<)y, reprint, Taipei: National 
Palace Museum, 1969-71), p. 1474. 

14. Chou Mi, Yun-yen kuo-yen lu {Mei-shu ts'ung-shu ed.), reprinted in I-shu ts'ung-pien (Taipei, 1962), 
p. 45. 

15. HsUan-ho hua-p'u (original preface 1120), translated into modern Chinese and annotated by Yii 
Chien-hua (Beijing, 1964), p. 132. 

16. Recorded in Pien Yung-yu, Shih-ku-t'ang shu-hua hui-k'ao (reprint, Taipei, 1958), chiian 12 (Li 
Kung-lin), pp. ia-2a. See also Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u," pp. 38-39. 

17. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, Hsiao King, pp. 465-67. 

18. Used, for example, in the T'ang court's commemorative portraits of distinguished officials and in 
Northern Sung portraits of distinguished scholars. See Wen-wu, no. 4 (i960), pp. 61-69, for the 
former; and Mary Gardner Neill, The Communion of Scholars (New York, 1982), pp. 97-100, for the 

19. Osvald Siren, Chinese Painting, Leading Masters and Principles, 7 vols. (New York, 1956-58), vol. 3, 
pi. 199. 

20. The version by Tu Chin, a fifteenth-century artist, now in the Metropolitan Museum, preserves 
this composition; see Christie's, New York, Fine Chinese Paintings, sale cat., June 5, 1985, lot 8. 

21. Translation based upon Legge, Hsiao King, pp. 467-68; and Makra, Hsiao Ching, p. 5. 



22. Su Pai, Pai-sha Sung-mu (Beijing, 1975), p. 80. 

23. For late Northern Sung aesthetic theory, see especially the discussion of the term p'ing-tan ("flat 
and pale") in Jonathan Chaves, Mei Yao-ch'en and the Development of Early Sung Poetry (New York 
and London, 1976), pp. 114-32, where the term is translated as "even and bland." See also Susan 
Bush, The Chinese Literati on Painting: Su Shih (lo^y-iio-i) to Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (i^^^-i6^6), 
Harvard-Yenching Institute Studies 27 (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), pp. 22-28, 67-74. 

24. Translation based upon Legge, Hsiao King, pp. 468-69; and Makra, Hsiao Ching, p. 7. 

25. Patricia Ebrey, "The Dynamics of Elite Domination in Sung China," Harvard Journal of Asiatic 
Studies 48, no. 2 (1988), pp. 493-519. See also an unpublished paper by Valerie Hansen, "Using 
Art as Evidence: What the Qingming Shanghetu Scroll Reveals about Twelfth-Century China," 
read at the Association of Asian Studies annual meeting in New Orleans, 1991. 

26. Sodai no kaiga: Tokubetsuten/Song Paintings from Japanese Collection[s] (Nara, 1989), cat. 58, p. 93. 

27. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, Hsiao King, pp. 469-70. 

28. Ibid., pp. 470-71. 

29. Ibid., pp. 471-72. 

30. Agnes E. Meyer, Chinese Painting as Reflected in the Thought and Art of Li Lung-mien, ioyo-1106 
(New York, 1923), pp. 287-88, for example. 

31. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, Hsiao King, p. 474. 

32. Ibid., pp. 474-75- 

33. Ibid., pp. 476-80. 

34. Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs (New York, i960), p. 160. 

35. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, Hsiao King, pp. 480-81. 

36. Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u," p. 107. 

37. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, Hsiao King, p. 481. 

38. Lothar Ledderose, "A King of Hell," in the volume of essays written in honor of Kei Suzuki's 
sixtieth birthday, Suzuki Kei sensei kanreki-kinen: Chugoku kaigashi ronshU (Tokyo, 1981), pp. 31-42. 

39. Based upon Legge, Hsiao King, pp. 481-82. 

40. For a discussion of Li's portraits of Su, see Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u," pp. 118-19. 

41. The colophon is translated below and discussed in Barnhart, Along the Border of Heaven, note 55. 

42. For a discussion of this practice, see Barnhart, "Li Kung-lin's Hsiao Ching T'u," p. 117. Mi Fu, 
Hua-shih, in Mei-shu ts'ung-k'an (Taipei, 1956), p. 87, discusses a self-portrait by Wang Wei. 

43. An example by Lin T'ing-kuei is reproduced in Kojiro Tomita, Portfolio of Chinese Paintings in the 
Museum: Han to Sung (Cambridge, Mass., 1933), pi. 83. 

44. Simon Schama, Dead Certainties (New York, 1991), pp. 3-39. 

45. Legge, Hsiao King, pp. 482-83. 

46. Juan Yiian, Hsiao-ching chu-shu, chiian 7, p. la, in Juan Yiian, Shih-san ching chu-shu (1816; reprint, 
Taipei, n.d.). 

47. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, Hsiao King, p. 483. 

48. Ibid., pp. 483-84. 

49. Ibid., pp. 484-86. 

50. Fong, Beyond Representation, pp. 51-54. 

51. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, T^e Religious Portions of the Shih King, in Sacred 
Books of China, p. 367. 

52. Translation, with slight modifications, from Legge, Hsiao King, p. 486. 

53. Ibid., pp. 487-88. 

54. Waley, Book of Songs, p. 41. 

55. Author's translation of Su Shih's "Colophon to Li Kung-lin's Hsiao-ching t'u," which is found in 
P'ei-wen-chai shu-hua p'u (1708; reprint, Shanghai, 1883), p. la. 



Colophons and Documentation 

Richard M. Barnhart 

The only evidence of ownership earlier than Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (1555-1636) now on 
the Metropolitan scroll is a long colophon written on fine Sung paper by an unidenti- 
fied "Han-man-weng" (fig. 49b).* The style of the calligraphy is close to that of the 
thirteenth-century poet and calligrapher Chang Chi-chih (1186-1266). The writer's 
seals are of wood, another feature of the Southern Sung or Yiian period. One seal 
reads: "Han-man-weng"; the other gives the cyclical date keng-yin. The text of the 
colophon is a biography of Li Kung-lin based on the account in Teng Ch'un's Hua-chi 
of 1167. The date keng-yin could therefore refer to 1230 or 1290. On the evidence of the 
style of the calligraphy, it could not be very much later. 

Of the four colophons by Tung Ch'i-ch'ang, only the last of them, written in 1609, is 
dated. Tung certainly owned the scroll before 1603, when he had the complete text of 
chapter 9 reproduced in his collection of model calligraphy, Hsi-hung-t'ang fa-t'ieh 
(fig. 50). Tung's seals are also impressed on the present mounting, and on the silk 
itself. Tung's first colophon (fig. 49a) reads: 

In the Hsuan-ho hua-p'u, it is said that in his calligraphy Li Lung-mien revered 
the masters of the Wei and Chin periods. In this scroll, he took as his model the 
"Memorial Recommending Chi Chih" [Chien Chi Chih piao], by Chung Yu [151- 
230]. At the end of the scroll is the signature "Kung-lin." This is not seen in 
other works by him. I have had the calligraphy reproduced in the first chuan of 
my collection of model calligraphy, Hsi-hung-t'ang [fa-t'ieh]. As to the subtle 
beauty of his painting technique, it directly follows Ku Hu-t'ou [Ku K'ai-chih]. 
Together, his painting and calligraphy are worthy of being called "The Two 

* Because inscriptions and colophons are discussed in the chronological order in which they were 
added to the Classic of Filial Piety rather than in the order of their appearance on the scroll, figure 
references in Appendix 1 are occasionally out of sequence. 



In his second note (fig. 49c), Tung points out the characters in the text that were 
written incompletely to avoid the taboos of the Sung imperial family. He mistakenly 
wrote yin (as in Yin dynasty) ior jang, "to yield," as the character yin does not occur in 
the text: 

The characters yin and ching ["to respect"] are written incompletely in this scroll 
in order to avoid offending the Sung imperial family. The same taboos are 
observed in the calligraphy of Mi Fei. 

Tung's third colophon (fig. ^gd) suggests that the present scroll is the same as that 
recorded by Chou Mi about 1300: 

In his Yun-yen kuo-yen lu, Chou Mi records a Hsiao-ching t'u with both painting 
and calligraphy by Li Po-shih. That is this scroll. Whereas none of Po-shih's 
other paintings are signed, this one has the signature "Kung-lin," which sug- 
gests that it was painted for the emperor. 

In his colophon dated 1609 (fig. 49e), Tung records the exchange made that year with 
the Han-lin academician Liu Yu-chen of the Hsiao-ching t'u for Chao Meng-f u's Strum- 
ming a Lute in the Autumn Forest. 

From Liu Yu-chen, the painting passed into the hands of the noted authority on the 
Hsiao-ching, Hsu Yiian-wen (1634-1691), chief editor of the Hsiao-ching Yen-i, a volu- 
minous compendium of extended interpretations of the Classic of Filial Piety. Hsu 
wrote and sealed a short colophon (fig. 49n) recording Tung Ch'i-ch'ang's note ac- 
companying the reproduction of chapter 9 in Hsi-hung-t'ang fa-t'ieh, and affixed an- 
other seal to the painting proper. 

The next known owner was Wang T'ing-chang, or Wang Ling-wen, a wealthy mer- 
chant from Hsi-hsien, Anhwei Province. So highly did he prize the scroll that he 
built a Hall of the Classic of Filial Piety {Hsiao-ching T'ang) in which to house it. 

Figure 48a-d. Label strips and 
frontispieces to Li Kung-lin, 

Classic of Filial Piety 

Figure 493-2. Colophons to Li 
Kung-lin, Classic of Filial Piety 


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using only rare and expensive cedarwood. A label strip still on the scroll reads: 
"Hsiao-ching t'u, painted by Li Po-shih of Sung, who also wrote the text. Respectfully 
treasured by Wang Ling- wen in his Hall of the Classic of Filial Piety. This label written 
by Chin Shih-i [active ca. 1736-96]" (fig. 48b). The painter Fang Shih-shu (1692-1751), 
like Wang a native of Hsi-hsien, saw the painting sometime before 1747, probably 
while it was owned by the merchant. His signature, along with those of Fang Chen- 
kuan (1679-1747) and Wu Wen-chih, records the viewing (fig. 49f). Fang Shih-shu 
also mentions the painting in his collection of miscellany, T'ien-yung-an pi-chi. 

During this period, the scroll had already come to be veiled in mystery. Evidently, it 
was widely known but seldom seen. Among its admirers was Pi Lung, a brother of the 
governor-general of Hu-kuang (the present provinces of Hunan and Hupei). Finally, 
in 1788, after the death of Wang T'ing-chang, it was obtained by a certain Lu Meng- 
chao, who sold it to Pi Lung the following year for 50,000 cash. During the next 
decade, Pi Lung wrote six colophons that not only reveal his deep love for the paint- 
ing but supply interesting historical background as well. They are given here in the 
sequence in which they were written: 

1. (fig. 49m) 

Hsiao-ching t'u, a genuine work by Li Lung-mien of Sung. A rare treasure of the 
highest class. In the year wu-shen [1788] of the Ch'ien-lung period Lu Hsiao-lien, 
Meng-chao of Wu-men obtained it from the Wang family of Yang-chou. In the 
year chi-yu [1789], fifth intercalary month, I bought it from Meng-chao for a 
price of 50,000 cash. 

Recorded by the Master of Ching-i Studio, Pi Lung. 

2. (fig. 49I) 

Wang T'ing-chang of Hsi-hsien, also called Ling-wen, was a wealthy merchant 
of Yang-chou, a man of considerable culture and elegance. Among his retainers 
was a certain Ch'iu Yu-kao, who once wrote an account of a long handscroll by 
Li Lung-mien transcribing and illustrating the Classic of Filial Piety that was 
owned by Wang. He obtained it for a price of 1,200 gold, and then built a Hall of 



the Classic of Filial Piety in his garden using only precious cedarwood. He was 
one who truly guarded and cherished his precious possessions! I too knew from 
afar of the fame of the scroll, but I was never able to see it. In only a few years, 
however, Wang had passed away, and now the painting has unexpectedly come 
to me. One can only say that objects gather about those who love them. This 
painting, moreover, is a supernatural thing, and I will guard and preserve it 
with all my power. . . . 

Recorded again by Chu-ch'ih. 

3. (fig. 49k) 

In the third month of the year chi-yu [1609], Tung Wen-min exchanged this scroll 
with Liu T'ai-hsueh of Hsin-an. I obtained it in the fifth month of the year chi-yu 
[1789], a difference of 180 years. I, too, am a native of Hsin-an. A remarkable 
thing indeed! This is evidently a case of a mysterious destiny. 

Chi-yu [1789], autumn, eighth month, on a snowy day, recorded by Chu-ch'ih. 
4- (fig- 49j) 

In Ch'en Mei-kung's [Ch'en Chi-ju's] Ni-ku-lu it says: "Of Li Kung-lin's calligra- 
phy, Huang T'ing-chien said, 'He penetrated the secrets of calligraphy through 
the doorway of painting.'" As we look now at the small k'ai script of the Hsiao- 
ching, a spiritual brilliance radiates from the primitive brushstrokes, and we can 
perceive the pattern of the ancient // [clerical] script still preserved in it. As to 
the excellence of the brushwork of the painting, as Tung Ch'i-ch'ang said, it 
directly follows Ku K'ai-chih. Truly, it is one of the rarest treasures of the age! I 
would not exchange this scroll for a thousand in gold! 

Hsin-hai [1791], fifteenth day of the first month, after the snow cleared, again 
recorded by Chu-chi'ih. 

3- (fig- 491) 

In the Collected Colophons of Su Shih [Tung-p'o t'i-pa], there is a colophon to Li Po- 
shih's Hsiao-ching t'u: "When we look at these pictures, feelings of warm, loving 
duty and loyalty toward our parents well up within us. The superb brushwork is 
not inferior to that of Ku K'ai-chih and Lu T'an-wei. As for the final chapter, in 
which all that a son finds unbearable is described, the painter conveys these 
meanings in only the faintest suggestion of form. None but a truly superior man 
possessing the Way could achieve this level. Ku and Lu did not reach it." The 
painting that Su Shih inscribed was in all probability this one. His colophon was 
simply cut off during the period of Emperor Hui-tsung's ban on his calligraphy. 

[signed] Chu-ch'ih 

6. (fig. 49h) 

Of the paintings attributed to Li Kung-lin that I have seen, eight or nine out of 
every ten have been forgeries. As for this Hsiao-ching t'u, not only is the quality 
of the painting itself lofty but the calligraphy, too, is of unsurpassed excellence. 
It deserves to be called the finest Lung-mien painting in the world; a treasure 
worth 10,000 gold. 

Recorded by Pi Lung. 

The property of the Pi family was confiscated in 1799, following the discovery of what 
appeared to be scandalous misuse of government funds by Pi Lung's brother Pi Yiian. 
It was probably at that time that the Hsiao-ching t'u was acquired by a certain Pao of 



Fan-ch'ang, who in turn sold it to the scholar Hung Ying. In his colophon (fig. 49g), 
Hung, too, remarks on the mysterious fate that had seemed to guide and preserve the 
painting within the borders of Anhwei for over two centuries: 

Is there not a deep and mysterious destiny of brush and ink, protected by a 
guardian deity who will not permit this holy thing to leave this land? This 
scroll, which illustrates the Classic of Filial Piety, is a legacy from the worthies of 
old. Its affinity to the renowned teachings of Confucius is great indeed! It is 
worthy of esteem therefore not merely because the excellence of brush and ink is 
unsurpassed through all time. Those who follow me should think deeply and 
long on this that they might guard and protect it without remiss. 

On the day following the Tuan-yang Festival (observed on the fifth day of the fifth 
lunar month), 1826, the distinguished Confucian scholar Niu Shu-yii (1760-1827) 
viewed the scroll with two friends (fig. 490). Later that year, on the tenth day of the 
ninth lunar month, Niu also wrote a title frontispiece (fig. 48c), one of two still 
attached to the painting . The second was written by the noted calligrapher Wu Tzu 
(1813-1858; fig. 48d), who also contributed a label strip (fig. 48a). 

The great teacher and literary figure Yao Nai remarked before his death in 1815 that he 
had lived all his life in the Lung-mien Mountains, near the birthplace of Li Kung-lin, 
but had never seen a painting by the Sung master. Yao Nai's student Kuan T'ung, in 
the colophon he wrote twelve years after his master's death, addresses him to report 
that his sons had now acquired not one but three paintings by Li Kung-lin, and that 
he might rest more easily knowing that his lifelong desire had been fulfilled, albeit 
only in death (fig. 49p): 

Li Po-shih's Hsiao-ching t'u. From each chapter, he selected one or two words to 
be illustrated. Its dreamlike images are astonishingly fine, far superior to the 
other two paintings [attributed to Li Kung-lin], Immortals and Pig Hunt. As for 
the calligraphy, an earlier writer has said that it vigorously pursues the model of 
Chung Yu, and the comment is not an empty one. Yao Hsi-pao once said that 
though he lived in Lung-mien, in his entire lifetime he had never seen Po-shih's 
painting. Now this inequity has been corrected. In the space of a few years, 
three precious paintings by Li Po-shih have been acquired. The Master should 
feel contented now. 

Twenty years later the scroll was in Beijing, in the possession of a family named Wen. 
Through the good offices of the painter and connoisseur Wu Chun, or Wu Kuan-ying, 
it was brought to the attention of another, wealthier painter, Ch'en Shih-chin. Ch'en 
was at that time in mourning, and following Wu Chun's advice he bought the scroll, 
as much, it seems, for its subject matter, so meaningful to him just then, as for its 
artistic merit. A deeply filial son, he immediately set about having the entire scroll 
engraved on stone so that through rubbings it could be more widely circulated. The 
painting he apparently guarded jealously and let scarcely anyone see. His long colo- 
phon, written in 1857, recounts the story and well illustrates the almost tangible aura 
of immortality that surrounded the painting during the entire period of its known 
history (fig. 49t). Ch'en Shih-chin, like its other owners, regarded it as a holy object: 

Extant authentic works of the Sung and Yiian periods are extremely rare. I have 
been searching for them for many years, and have succeeded in finding only a 
few. In the spring of the year ting-wei [1847], Wu Tzu-chung [Wu Chun] saw at 



the home of Shi Wen in the capital Li Lung-mien's Hsiao-ching t'u, the transcrip- 
tion and illustration of the Classic of Filial Piety, an authentic work. He sent me a 
letter praising the work, and as I had long been impressed by Master Wu's 
connoisseurship, I asked him to buy it and have it brought back to me. The scroll 
is well over ten feet long, on silk; each chapter of the text is accompanied by an 
illustration. The figures are antique and respectful, the brushwork pure and 
vigorous, embodying strength in pliancy — truly a work that reveals the artistic 
merit and profound thought of a scholar. In his calligraphy in the k'ai, or model, 
script he used very thick ink. The effect he achieves with the brush is pure and 
unsophisticated; the tip of the brush is withdrawn, its edge concealed. It follows 
the concepts of Chung T'ai-fu [Chung Yu]. Unfortunately, both the text and the 
illustration of chapter i are lost, and the illustrations of the chapters on the 
emperor and the common people are lost as well. Although there are numerous 
other areas of loss and damage, none is excessive. As for the transmission of the 
painting, the forest of colophons by famous men suffices to prove that it has 
long been treasured and esteemed. When the boat on which the scroll was sent 
me by post was turning around at Wu-men, a boatman accidentally dropped it 
into the water. Thanks to the strength and firmness of the wrapping, however, 
the water did not penetrate through to the painting itself. Truly, holy things are 
protected by the gods! And yet they can still encounter grave danger! I was 
moved by this, and decided to entrust the scroll to Master Chang Ts'ui-shan to 
make an engraving so that it might be transmitted through numberless transfor- 
mations. The longevity of hard, white stone will enable it to pass through 
future ages without harm. The silk, however, having survived over eight hun- 
dred years, had turned very dark and it was not easy to trace the painting. 
Fortunately, Master Wu assisted in the work, and a fine copy was made. We 
obtained a version that could be engraved consisting of twelve chapters. Chap- 
ter 10 [a mistake for chapter 9] had already been reproduced in Hsi-hung-t'ang, 
and we did not repeat it. As for the rest, wherever the calligraphy or painting 
had been rubbed off or lost, we repaired it with material drawn from elsewhere 
in the scroll. With this. Lung-mien's spirit and the excellence of his art will be 
fresh and new forever; and his mind, which illumines the sage's classic and 
thereby assists the world in spreading his teaching, will still be able to clearly 
explain the meaning of filial piety to philosophers of the future. It is certainly 
not merely a model for the world of art and nothing more! 

Ting-ssu [1857I, a summer day, recorded by Ch'en Shih-chin. 

During the long period in which the painting was owned by Ch'en Shih-chin and 
subsequently by his son Ch'en Shao-ho— from 1847 to 1878— it was evidently rarely 
seen. No colophons written for the painting itself are now attached to it. Rubbings of 
the engraving, however, circulated widely, and three colophons now attached to the 
Metropolitan Museum scroll were written in appreciation of these reproductions. 
The rubbings were seen in each case through Wu Chun, who had been instrumental 
in the purchase of the work by Ch'en Shih-chin. One colophon was written by the 
eminent scholar, poet, and official Ch'i Chun-tsao (1793-1866; fig. 49s); another by 
the celebrated painter and martyr Tai Hsi (1801-1860; fig. 49r); and the third by a 
Buddhist monk, Chueh-an (fig. 49q). Ch'i Chun-tsao, himself a rigorous Confucianist 
who served four emperors in his long career, emphasized in his colophon the essen- 
tially Confucian philosophy of Li Po-shih. His poem reads: 



How can "emptiness" compare to imitating the mirror of reality! 
When the myriad Buddhist fates are swept away, the true Confucian 

scholar is revealed. 
The customs of the family are preserved in Moral Lessons at the Mountain 

Home [another painting by Li Kung-lin]. 
But this is a pearl beneath the jaws of a dragon [i.e., a treasure almost 

impossible to obtain]! 

In his colophon, now attached to the painting but originally written for one of the 
reproductions shown him by Wu Kuan-ying, Tai Hsi tells of the reputation of the 
painting and of the influence of Li Kung-lin's calligraphy on the famous eighteenth- 
century calligrapher Liu Yung (1719-1804): 

Lung-mien shan-jen's Hsiao-ching t'u, together with the text of the classic writ- 
ten in the small k'ai script. Ssu-weng [Tung ch'i-ch'ang] was completely bowled 
over by it. He had the calligraphy engraved in the first chapter of Hsi-hung-t'ang. 
Through that reproduction I was already familiar with its general appearance. 
As for the painting itself, I had no idea by whom it was owned and enjoyed. 
Recently, however, I met the Chung-ch'eng [Counselor of the Center] Hsu 
Hsun-ch'en [Hsu Nai-chao], and our talk turned to this painting. He spoke with 
the greatest admiration of the lofty antiquity of the style of painting and the 
freedom and purity of the calligraphy. He also told me that Liu Wen-ch'ing [Liu 
Yung], who lived early in this dynasty, had completely based his own style of 
calligraphy on it. I thirsted for even a glimpse of the scroll, but my wish was 
never fulfilled. Then, in the fifth intercalary month of ting-ssu [1857] the 
Hsien-feng era. Master Wu Kuan-ying of Chiang-yin came to visit me, bringing 
with him a rubbing made from a stone engraving of the entire scroll made by 
Master Ch'en Chi-fang, and at long last 1 had the privilege of seeing this holy 
object. Stunned with awe and admiration, 1 realized that everything Hsun- 
weng [Hsun-ch'en] had said of it was indeed true! 

In 1878, the scroll was given by Ch'en Shao-ho, the son of Ch'en Shih-chin, to Hsin- 
wu of P'ing-liang via Ch'en Chao-chih, another relative of Ch'en Shih-chin. A colo- 
phon by Ch'en Chao-chih records the transaction and points out that, thanks to the 
deities who guarded its fate, the painting had still not left Anhwei (fig. 49V). The last 
colophon of any interest was written two or three years later, in 1880, by Li Hung- 
chang (fig. 49U). Li severely admonishes someone who had had the audacity to 
question the authenticity of the painting, and he returns to a theme that runs through 
the colophons, the essentially didactic purpose of the work: 

When the ancient men made paintings, their primary purpose was moral in- 
struction. Not a single thought or brushstroke was accidental. Theirs was no 
"art for art's sake," as in the modern world of art. The excellence of brush and 
ink in this painting can by no means be regarded as spurious. One can enjoy it 
from morning till night, seeking to discover wherein lies its meaning. Nor can it 
be said to be without some small assistance in the path of establishing one's life 
and serving one's parents. 

Following other colophons by P'an Yii-jen (fig. 49W), Hsia Li-pang, and Chang Yii 
(fig. 49x) is a notation by the connoisseur and collector Yang Hsien, who examined 
the scroll in his studio in the same year, 1880 (fig. 49y). It was later owned by C. C. 
Wang, whose brief note is the last written (fig. 497). 



The Conservation and Remounting of 

the Classic of Filial Piety 

Sondra Castile and Takemitsu Oba 

The timing of the conservation of a work of art is critical to its preservation. Asian 
paintings and calligraphy must maintain a delicate balance between pigment, sup- 
port, and mounting materials— each of which is usually a single thin layer adhered or 
joined to another layer in a variety of ways. When the materials themselves become 
unstable or the equilibrium between them is lost, deterioration begins. This may be 
the result of inherent vice, the term used to describe the capacity of a work of art to 
degrade in time, but it may be hastened by a deficiency in the skill of the mounter; by 
the quality, choice, or use of materials; or by the conditions of storage and handling. 
Whatever the cause, the conservator hopes to have the opportunity to arrest these 
deleterious processes before further loss can occur, for although the components of 
an Asian painting and its mounting may seem fragile individually, when united in a 
mounting finely executed, they may be expected to survive a very long time. 

The conservation and remounting of the Li Kung-lin handscroll the Classic of Filial 
Piety was carried out at the Oka Bokkodo conservation facilities in Kyoto, Japan, and 
was completed in 1978. The Oka studio has worked on many paintings registered in 
Japan as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties, and has remounted 
other well-known works from collections around the world. It has a reputation for 
being able to treat paintings in particularly hazardous states of deterioration. It was 
for this reason that Iwataro Oka, the master of the studio, and his staff were asked to 
undertake the conservation of this handscroll. When the work was begun, the paint- 
ing was on loan to Princeton University, and both before and during the process of 
conservation, Professor Shujiro Shimada, of Princeton's Department of Art and 
Archaeology, consulted extensively with Mr. Oka. 

The frangibility of the handscroll and the various losses that were apparent might not 
in themselves have been cause for immediate alarm. With infrequent handling and 
optimum storage conditions, a scroll with what appears to be similar deficiencies may 
survive for a long time without further appreciable loss. But with the prospect of 
more frequent handling for study purposes and the anticipation of public exhibition. 



the need for remounting assumed a certain urgency. This determination was rein- 
forced by the preHminary examination, which revealed that the first backing, the one 
adhered directly to the painting, was silk rather than paper. 

Although there is in China a long history of the use of silk as the first backing, 
experience has shown that its use causes a particular kind of deterioration. Where 
losses are sustained and no repairs have been made to the missing portions, a second 
silk backing would cover all the holes at once. This does not, however, constitute 
what is referred to as a fill, since where a loss existed there is one layer of silk, 
whereas where no loss existed there are two layers. This scattered imbalance cannot 
be entirely compensated for in the mounting processes that follow. 

The Li Kung-lin handscroll had silk repairs in addition to the silk backing. The 
backing therefore constituted a second layer over the entire reverse of the painting 
support. As the handscroll was rolled and unrolled, the two layers of silk wore against 
each other, resulting in expanded losses caused by the additional breakage of threads 
on the outside perimeters of the holes. New losses also resulted where small areas of 
a few threads were not filled before the silk backing was applied. In general, a silk 
backing ultimately lacks the long-term flexibility and adhesion of paper, and this was 
certainly the case in the handscroll under consideration. 

The twelfth-century painter and calligrapher Mi Fu, who was himself known as an 
accomplished mounter, cautioned against the use of silk as a backing. He also noted 
the damage that could occur from the use of silk for patching by methods in use at the 
time. Mi Fu's observations remain valid, and the practices he describes have not been 
abandoned even today. For a variety of reasons, many mounters continue to use 
methods of silk application in repair or backing that may have been observed to 
hasten deterioration. 

The conservation and remounting of the Classic of Filial Piety began with a thorough 
analysis of the individual elements of the painting and colophons, and of the condi- 
tion of the pigment surfaces, the silk and paper supports, and the mounting. The 
mounting included the backings, textiles, rollers, cord, and fittings that adapted the 
painting to the handscroll format. These findings and the interpretation of them were 
the basis for determining the procedures for conservation that would be necessary 
and appropriate. In general, there are three fundamental questions that must be taken 
into consideration: (i) How will areas of loss in the silk be resolved, and is the 
appropriate silk for repair available? (2) What material will constitute the first new 
backing? (3) Will the textiles of the present mounting be repaired and used again, or 
will they be changed? Without answers to these questions remounting cannot begin; 
materials must be prepared and the method of their use determined beforehand. 
Because the mounting provides overall stabilization, the conservator should not dis- 
mantle the mounting until assured that steady progress through all phases of the 
remounting will occur; experimentation is rarely possible. 

Paintings and Colophons 

Silk thread thins with age, and there was evidence of such thinning of the silk 
support. Many warp threads were broken, often leaving only weft threads in place. 
As a result of this breakage, there remained many scattered islands of loosely associ- 
ated threads. Additional losses had been sustained since the last remounting, and in 
many areas the silk support was lifting from the backing and in danger of imminent 



loss. Much of this condition could be ascribed to the adverse effects of the first 

The silk of the backing was of heavier thread and a coarser weave than that of the 
painting. Consequently, it was still quite strong and not disintegrated, though it had 
adhered unevenly as the paste bond weakened. 

At some time in the past, the top and bottom edges of the painting silk had frayed or 
been damaged and had been replaced with silk to restore height and to even the 
edges. Repairs within the painting itself had been made with silk and applied with 
varying degrees of skill. Although the repairs had probably been made during a 
single remounting, it was evident that the work had been done by more than one 
person. The repairs were placed in the missing areas and cut on straight lines gener- 
ally conforming to the shape of the uneven missing areas. The edges of these areas 
had first been trimmed away to make straight edges, and in this way thread ends had 
been lost. The silk backing was applied when these repairs were in place. Very small 
areas of two or three threads, commonly warp threads, had not been filled. The 
technique of repairing these very small losses is difficult, and the previous mounter 
did not, or perhaps did not have the expertise to, address the problem. 

The ink and slight red pigment of the painting surface were generally stable. No 
pigments, such as aquamarine or malachite, which tend to weaken silk, had been 
used. Some small movement of red, which had occurred in the past, was noted. 

Several problems had to be dealt with in the planning of the conservation: 

• How would the many small, isolated thread clusters and the areas where broken 
warp threads had left only weft fragments be preserved during the removal of 
the backing? 

• Should any, or all, of the existing repairs be retained? 

• How should losses be compensated for, and what repairs should be made where 
there were broken or lost warp threads? To what extent should repairs be made 
to preserve the painting from further losses without becoming obtrusive? 

• What silk would be compatible for repair? 

The dark silk backing had made the repaired areas unobtrusive, but it had at the same 
time rendered fine lines less distinct and difficult to read. The tone of the new paper 
backing would be critical in achieving a visual balance and redefining the finest lines. 

The silk repairs that filled losses in the area of the painting itself preserved details of 
the images as the in-painter had imagined them to be originally. Ink lines had been 
extended on the repairs, and various details had been filled in. By this method, the 
previous restorer may have intended to avoid distraction to the eye, but they are 
clearly not by the hand of the artist. Although well painted they contain errors, most 
notably in a figure near the beginning of the scroll who has acquired a third leg (figs. 
51a, b). 

It had to be decided whether the existing mounting — that is, the textile portions and 
other sections not directly used for painting or colophons— would be reused. It is 
inevitably easier to begin with new materials. (The practice of discarding an existing 
mounting was, and today remains, prevalent and may be attested to by the frequent 
and conspicuous loss of parts of seals on Chinese paintings where two sections are 
joined.) The materials of an existing mounting must be of a quality demanded by the 
work of art. If they are not, it must be determined whether materials exist to improve 



upon them. The juxtaposition of color and pattern must complement the painting and 
take into account relevant historical and thematic considerations. The measurements 
of the mounting not only create an overall balance between the elements of the scroll 
but also aid in its preservation — that is, the edges must be wide enough and the 
sections next to the rollers long enough to prevent damage. 

It was determined that the following procedures would be adopted. The section of 
the handscroll that held the title sheet, the painting, and the first colophon by Tung 
Ch'i-ch'ang would constitute one scroll. Because this colophon was joined by its 
mounting and by a seal, it could not be permanently separated and joined to the other 
colophons. The remaining colophons would constitute a second handscroll. All pre- 
vious repairs would be removed and preserved, pasted in their original position, on a 
free-hand line copy of the painting. The Ming title slip mounted on the outside textile 
would be removed and placed next to the earlier title slip inside the scroll. One repair 
that had seals impressed upon it would be kept in its present position with the 
painting section. Because the quality of this in-painting was high, it would be pre- 
served and remain also as a record of past conservation. 


Pigments or ink on a painting must be stable before any treatment can begin. If they 
are not, stabilization is usually achieved by applying a weak solution of animal glue 
to each of the pigmented areas individually. It may be necessary to repeat this process 
many times until the deteriorated binder has been replaced and the pigment again 
firmly adhered. In the Li Kung-lin scroll only the red pigment, which in one area had 
bled, may have been unstable. However, as the entire silk support was particularly 
thin and weakened, it was treated with a 1.5 percent solution of rabbit-skin glue. This 
served to enliven and strengthen the silk. 

We began by removing the outer and inner rollers. First, the paper or silk of the 
mounting attached to the rollers was dampened slightly, and, when the paste re- 
laxed, the rollers were separated from the scroll. 



With a sheet of rayon paper dampened and brushed out on the worktable, a section of 
the scroll was extended facedown. It was dampened evenly and smoothed out by 
brushing. When the dampness had penetrated and softened the paste between 
layers, each of the backings was removed by peeling, until the layer at which the 
different sections of the handscroll were joined was revealed. Each section was then 
separated by lifting the edge where the overlap was joined. Measurements of each 
section were taken. 

Because of the extreme weakness of the silk, combined with losses and tears, the first 
backing next to the painting was not removed at this time. 

Removal of the First Backing 

A sheet of rayon paper extending an inch beyond the painting support on all four 
sides was dampened and brushed out smooth on a glass table. The silk was damp- 
ened with a fine spray of water. In a few minutes, the water was absorbed and the silk 
rested on the table in undulations. To remove the slack, the silk was lifted slowly from 
both ends. Twelve-inch sections of rayon paper, with a one-inch overlap, were ap- 
plied successively to cover the face of the silk. The dampness retained in the silk 
made it possible to affix the paper evenly and smoothly. With the use of a soft-haired 
brush, all creases and air bubbles in the rayon paper were eliminated. 

The painting was turned facedown and smoothed out. With the aid of transmitted 
light, the silk backing was slowly removed. During the time the support was damp- 
ened, the paste with which the first backing had been adhered softened, gradually 
absorbing the moisture. As this bond weakened, the backing silk was carefully drawn 
back in small sections. Where the silk was more difficult to remove, or where pre- 
vious repairs or thread islands were tenuously in place, pencil-sized brushes were 
used to ease the two silks apart. This left the intact section of the silk support, 
previous repairs, and separated fragments still resting on the rayon paper beneath. 

With this technique, once removal of the first backing had begun, the process had to 
continue — or the same conditions be maintained — until the first new backing had been 
applied. Because this process could not be completed in one day, the silk was kept 
damp in a cool environment overnight, until the backing could be entirely removed. 

The repairs to the original (fig. 52a) were lifted off to be placed on the facsimile 
(fig. 32b). At this time, errant threads were realigned. Lines of the painting that were 
not coherent or that might have shifted slightly during the removal of the backing 
were eased into their proper position. Single silk threads and islands of loosely joined 
threads were straightened in the direction of warp and weft. This justification can no 
longer be accomplished when the first backing is in place. The illustration below 
(fig. 52c) shows the same section after completion of conservation. 

Dyeing of Backing Papers 

It was determined that dyeing the backing paper in a very light shade similar to that 
of the silk support would produce the desired effect of creating an overall balance of 
tone and of preserving the definition of fine lines. The paper was dyed with an 
extract of alder cones (Alnus firma). A mordant of wood-ash lye was used, and the 
papers were given a final rinse. 




The paste used today is essentially the same as that used on the earliest mountings 
known. It is a material that, if properly utilized, makes the process completely revers- 
ible even after hundreds of years. 

Care must be taken in the preparation of paste used for mounting. Paste for mounting 
is always made rather thick, as it will later be thinned in the mounting process. Wheat 
starch from which most of the gluten has been removed is first mixed with water and 
stirred over heat. For part of this process, the heat is high and the liquid boils. The 
amount of water necessary to make a thick paste and the time it takes for it to pass 
through the various stages differ as a result of variations in humidity and in the 
starch. It is normally made within an hour. The person making paste must be alert 
throughout and the paste stirred constantly for the process to be successful. "Good" 
and "bad" paste may look exactly the same, but the latter will not have the proper 

Flexibility is required in the mounting of scrolls; a strong, stiff bond is not desirable. 
Wheat starch produces a weak adhesive. The relative strength of the adhesive is 
further controlled by diluting the paste to various consistencies as needed. In the 
mounting of old paintings and calligraphy, an even weaker bond is preferable. For 
this reason, much of the paste used on some parts of an old mounting will have been 
aged from six to ten years. This paste is made in the same way as regular paste and is 
stored in a cool place with little fluctuation in temperature. During this period, 
various bacteria reduce the paste to a more pliable consistency. When used on the last 
backing, after being strained and diluted, it has the consistency of slightly milky 



Figure 52a. Chapter 13 of the 
Classic of Filial Piety before 
conservation, showing previous 

Figure 52b. Chapter 13, 
showing repairs on facsimile 

Figure 52c. Chapter 13 
after conservation 


First Backing 

When the process of thread alignment was complete and while the silk support was 
still damp, the first backing was applied. The paste was diluted to a consistency that 
would flow off the brush in a thin stream. For this backing, the paste was brushed 
onto the smooth side of the paper, which is directly affixed to the reverse of the 
painting silk. (The last backing is pasted on the rough side, so that the smooth side of 
the paper will be facing out.) The paste was applied liberally and the excess removed 
until the layer was even over the whole sheet. A few minutes later, when the tack had 
built up with the evaporation of a slight amount of moisture, the backing was 
smoothed out on the silk by brushing into place. The timing of this procedure is very 
important. Too much or too little moisture on the silk and/or backing paper will 
result in poor or uneven adhesion. The effects of this miscalculation may not become 
evident immediately but may cause premature delamination of layers of the mounting 
at a later time. 

After being backed, the painting was lifted from the table and turned faceup. The 
protective rayon sheets were then removed one by one and the painting was placed on 
a fine woolen blanket, the woolen fibers providing just enough support for even 
drying throughout. 

The removal of the backings on the calligraphy and colophon sections followed a 
similar course. Transmitted light was used to detect particularly thin areas, and, 
where necessary, layers were removed to achieve an evenness throughout. Necessary 
repairs were made with paper before backing. 

Backings were also removed from the various parts of the mounting. Before backing, 
warp and weft threads were straightened and repairs made. The illustration below 



Figure 53. Chapter 3 of the shows a section of the scroll after backing and after repairs were made, but before 

Classic of Filial Piety before in-painting (fig. 53). 


Drying Boards 

The time that the various pieces of mounting and painting spend on the drying 
boards, and the time spent there after the work is joined, is critical in achieving the 
final balance between the many disparate parts. The time spent on the boards may be 
thought of as a time of acclimatization, during which old and new textiles, papers, 
and paste are united in a single object. 

The discrepancies between the various materials as they lie adjacent or joined to one 
another in a scroll — differences in the weaves, the thickness of the threads, and the 
direction of use, whether warp or weft — must be individually evened out by the 
choice of backing, paste consistency, and brushing techniques. While these decisions 
are usually straightforward with new works of art and new materials, old works of art 
and old or used materials make the problem much more complex, as deteriorated 
materials are not of uniform strength and tend to respond unevenly. 

During the backing, it is crucial to be able to control the amount of deformity that 
occurs. Such regulation is possible through a knowledge of the probable limits of this 
process and the subsequent application of moisture. The tendency of a textile to 
stretch and to shrink will be minimized by the application of less moisture. Weave 
distortion may also be controlled or minimized in this way. Based on knowledge of 
this distortion factor among the materials being used, each piece was dampened to 



the degree considered necessary, with the aim of having all pieces dry uniformly. 
Whether the piece is brushed in the direction of the warp, the weft, both ways, or 
neither way is critical. Too much dampness on a section that expands a great deal will 
cause excessive shrinkage in drying, and it will not be consistently flat. Achieving the 
sought-for balance during the times the sections are on the drying boards is accom- 
plished by continuous refinement. After the sections have been joined, this adjust- 
ment can no longer be made. 

The backed section is pasted to the drying boards along the narrow edges of the 
backing paper that extend on all four sides. 

Silk Repair 

With the first backing in place, repair of the losses could begin. The silk used in the 
repair, though differing in the number of warp threads, was of a similar weave and 
weight as that of the painting silk. The existing tone was deepened slightly by dyeing 
with alder-cone extract and ink ground from an ink stick. This added color brought 
the tone somewhat closer to that of the painting support, which made it easier to 
achieve the final tone desired by later in-painting. 

After dyeing, drying, and rinsing away the dye residue from the repair silk, the 
threads were aligned and a thin backing sheet was put on with a very diluted paste. 
With the painting faceup, the edges of the backing paper extending beyond the silk 
support were pasted to a glass light table. The silk was slightly dampened so that it 
dried perfectly flat. By means of transmitted light the exact shapes of the losses were 
clearly visible. The repair silk was aligned facedown with the warp and weft of the 
painting support. The outlines of the losses were individually traced with pencil on 
the thin paper backing of the repair silk and then cut out with a fine blade, severing 
the warp and weft threads one by one to make the edge of the repair mesh with the 
edges of the loss. Paste was applied to the exposed silk of the repair and set firmly on 
the backing paper beneath the hole. Moisture applied from the tip of a small brush 
loosened the paper backing of the silk repair which was then lifted off, leaving the 
silk repair in place. 

Joining of Sections and Reinforcement 

All sections were removed from the drying boards. The edges to be joined were made 
square. Reinforcing strips — narrow strips of very thin paper lightly dyed to the tone 
of the backing— were applied over the first backing to weakened lines or creases in 
the painting. These had to provide strength without causing stiffness and without 
being visible from the front. 

If the paper strips are too thick or too wide or are improperly placed, further creasing 
will occur. Damage to the pigments on the surface may also result. The scroll, with its 
first backing, was curved gently around a roller and pressed lightly with the thumb 
and forefinger, revealing a slight rise or peak at weakened places. The length of this 
incipient crease was then marked with a fine pencil on the backing paper. Other weak 
places were later detected with transmitted light. After the strips were pasted on the 
scroll, the entire scroll was checked once again and more strips were added as 



Second Backing 

As different thicknesses of paper were used in the first backing of each section to 
address the problem of balance, the selection of paper thickness for the second back- 
ing continued to pursue this balance. Where there was less strength, firmer paper 
was used. In this way, the discrepancies along the length of the scroll were gradually 
evened out. A soft paper with a small clay content was used. 

Last Backing 

Because the folded top and bottom edges of the silk mounting had been worn 
through, a folded-paper reinforcing border was added over the length of the scroll, 
extending almost invisibly from the mounting edge. The final backing of Chinese 
paper was pasted with the smooth side facing away from the scroll. The scroll was 
then returned to the drying boards, and when it was perfectly flat, the in-painting of 
the repairs was begun. 


Although the repair silk had been minimally dyed beforehand, the tone was kept 
intentionally lighter than the final effect would require. Silk darkens with age, and in- 
painting must take this into account; even after many years the in-painted areas 
should never become darker than the surrounding silk. (The ill effects of the initial 
matching of the color of the in-painting to that of the surrounding silk may be 
observed in many Asian paintings that have been repaired and remounted. Repairs 
that were once very close in color to a surrounding pigment have become obtrusive 
and appear as darker patches on the painting.) The philosophy of in-painting on the 
Li Kung-lin handscroll was to make the repairs unobtrusive while ensuring, as far as 
possible, that these areas would not at a later time conspicuously darken. It was also 
decided that missing lines and other portions of the painting would not be added. 



following the belief that no attempt should be made to restore the original work but 
rather to preserve what remained in the best condition for the longest possible time. 


All three scrolls now needed cords. Because there was not sufficient old cord of a 
single pattern available, new cord was woven, following the pattern of a sample 
borrowed from another Sung scroll. The pattern was prepared for the weaver at the 
Oka studio. A thread count was made, and the pattern copied thread for thread on 
graph paper. The silk thread was also then dyed at the studio. The cord was woven 
with a technique that reveals the design on one side in white with a beige ground and 
on the other in beige with a white ground. 


Three boxes of paulownia wood were made for the scrolls. The two that contain the 
painting and the colophons are more formal in style than the perfectly plain one that 
contains the facsimile and repairs. A deep persimmon-colored lacquered box, also of 
paulownia wood, was made to hold the three scroll boxes. The boxes and the three 
large-diameter rollers, themselves works of great precision, were made in Kyoto by 
Yusai Maeda, whose family has a long history in this craft. 

A paper cover, coated with persimmon tannin, was made for the outer box to protect 
the wood from scratches and staining. A woven green cord passes through slots at the 
bottom of the box and ties over the paper cover. 

The conservation and remounting of the Li Kung-lin handscroU took several years. 
Some processes — such as silk repair and in-painting— were particularly time- 
consuming, and much time passed while the work was in various stages on the 
drying boards. Now complete, the conservation and remounting of the handscroll 
should extend its life several hundred years. 



Chung-kuo mei-shu ch'iian-chi: Shu-fa chuan-k'o pien (The Complete Collection of Chinese Arts: 
Calligraphy and Seal Carvings). 7 volumes. Shanghai: Shanghai Shu-hua Ch'u-pan-she, 1986- 

Figure 27: vol. 4, 1986, p. 34 
Figure 30b: vol. 4, 1986, pp. 34-35 
Figure 31a: vol. 4, 1986, p. 35 
Figure 32: vol. 4, 1986, pp. 34-35 

Shodo zenshu (Compilation of Calligraphic Works). New series. 26 volumes. Tokyo: 
Heibonsha, 1954-69. 

Figure 20a: vol. 3, 1959, pi. 6-1 
Figure 20b: vol. 3, 1959, pi. 127 
Figure 21: vol. 3, 1959, pi. 107 
Figure 22: vol. 3, 1959, pi. 113 
Figure 26: vol. 15, 1954, pis. 8, 9 
Figure 29: vol. 15, 1954, pi. 47 
Figure 30: vol. 15, 1954, pis. 8, 9, 11 

Shoseki meihin sokan (Series of Masterpieces of Calligraphy). Tokyo: Nigensha, 1958-79. 

Figure 11a: vol. 5, 1958, p. 25 

Figure 14b: vol. 5, 1958, pp. 29, 34, 77, 76 

Figure 15a: vol. 49, i960, p. 12 

Figure 16a: vol. 28, i960, p. 42 

Figure 16b: vol. 7, 1959, p. 7 

Figure 17c: vol. 49, i960, p. 12 

Figure i7d: vol. 5, 1958, p. 34 

Figure 18a: vol. 49, i960, p. 38 

Figure 18b: vol. 16, 1959, p. 45 

Figure 18c: vol. 5, 1958, p. 16 

Figure i8d: vol. 49, i960, p. 25 

Figure 19b: vol. 49, i960, p. 34 

Figure 19c: vol. 7, 1959, p. 21 

Figure 24: vol. 96, 1962, p. 5; pp. 12, 13 

Figure 25: vol. 96, 1962, p. 7 

Figure 28: vol. 45, 1960, p. 30 

Figure 30c: vol. 45, i960, pp. 30-32 

Figure 31b: vol. 45, 1960, pp. 30, 32, 33 

Figure 32b: vol. 45, i960, pp. 31, 32, 34